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Writing a Research Paper

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The pages in this section provide detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

The Research Paper

There will come a time in most students' careers when they are assigned a research paper. Such an assignment often creates a great deal of unneeded anxiety in the student, which may result in procrastination and a feeling of confusion and inadequacy. This anxiety frequently stems from the fact that many students are unfamiliar and inexperienced with this genre of writing. Never fear—inexperience and unfamiliarity are situations you can change through practice! Writing a research paper is an essential aspect of academics and should not be avoided on account of one's anxiety. In fact, the process of writing a research paper can be one of the more rewarding experiences one may encounter in academics. What is more, many students will continue to do research throughout their careers, which is one of the reasons this topic is so important.

Becoming an experienced researcher and writer in any field or discipline takes a great deal of practice. There are few individuals for whom this process comes naturally. Remember, even the most seasoned academic veterans have had to learn how to write a research paper at some point in their career. Therefore, with diligence, organization, practice, a willingness to learn (and to make mistakes!), and, perhaps most important of all, patience, students will find that they can achieve great things through their research and writing.

The pages in this section cover the following topic areas related to the process of writing a research paper:

  • Genre - This section will provide an overview for understanding the difference between an analytical and argumentative research paper.
  • Choosing a Topic - This section will guide the student through the process of choosing topics, whether the topic be one that is assigned or one that the student chooses themselves.
  • Identifying an Audience - This section will help the student understand the often times confusing topic of audience by offering some basic guidelines for the process.
  • Where Do I Begin - This section concludes the handout by offering several links to resources at Purdue, and also provides an overview of the final stages of writing a research paper.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Research Paper

Matt Ellis

Few things strike more fear in academics than the accursed research paper , a term synonymous with long hours and hard work. Luckily there’s a secret to help you get through them. As long as you know how to write a research paper properly, you’ll find they’re not so bad . . . or at least less painful. 

In this guide we concisely explain how to write an academic research paper step by step. We’ll cover areas like how to start a research paper, how to write a research paper outline, how to use citations and evidence, and how to write a conclusion for a research paper. 

But before we get into the details, let’s take a look at what a research paper is and how it’s different from other  writing . 

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What is a research paper?

A research paper is a type of  academic writing that provides an in-depth analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a single topic, based on empirical evidence. Research papers are similar to analytical essays, except that research papers emphasize the use of statistical data and preexisting research, along with a strict code for citations. 

Research papers are a bedrock of modern science and the most effective way to share information across a wide network. However, most people are familiar with research papers from school; college courses often use them to test a student’s knowledge of a particular area or their research skills in general. 

Considering their gravity, research papers favor formal, even bland language that strips the writing of any bias. Researchers state their findings plainly and with corresponding evidence so that other researchers can consequently use the paper in their own research. 

Keep in mind that writing a research paper is different from  writing a research proposal . Essentially, research proposals are to acquire the funding needed to get the data to write a research paper. 

How long should a research paper be? 

The length of a research paper depends on the topic or assignment. Typically, research papers run around 4,000–6,000 words, but it’s common to see short papers around 2,000 words or long papers over 10,000 words. 

If you’re writing a paper for school, the recommended length should be provided in the assignment. Otherwise, let your topic dictate the length: Complicated topics or extensive research will require more explanation. 

How to write a research paper in 9 steps

Below is a step-by-step guide to writing a research paper, catered specifically for students rather than professional researchers. While some steps may not apply to your particular assignment, think of this as more of a general guideline to keep you on track. 

1 Understand the assignment

For some of you this goes without saying, but you might be surprised at how many students start a research paper without even reading the assignment guidelines. 

So your first step should be to review the assignment and carefully read the writing prompt. Specifically, look for technical requirements such as length , formatting requirements (single- vs. double-spacing, indentations, etc.) and citation style . Also pay attention to the particulars, such as whether or not you need to  write an abstract or include a cover page. 

Once you understand the assignment, the next steps in how to write a research paper follow the usual  writing process , more or less. There are some extra steps involved because research papers have extra rules, but the gist of the writing process is the same. 

2 Choose your topic

In open-ended assignments, the student must choose their own topic. While it may seem simple enough, choosing a topic is actually the most important decision you’ll make in writing a research paper, since it determines everything that follows. 

Your top priority in how to choose a research paper topic is whether it will provide enough content and substance for an entire research paper. You’ll want to choose a topic with enough data and complexity to enable a rich discussion. However, you also want to avoid general topics and instead stick with topics specific enough that you can cover all the relevant information without cutting too much.  

3 Gather preliminary research

The sooner you start researching, the better—after all, it’s called a research paper for a reason.

To refine your topic and prepare your thesis statement, find out what research is available for your topic as soon as possible. Early research can help dispel any misconceptions you have about the topic and reveal the best paths and approaches to find more material. 

Typically, you can find sources either online or in a library. If you’re searching online, make sure you use credible sources like science journals or academic papers. Some search engines—mentioned below in the Tools and resources section—allow you to browse only accredited sources and academic databases. 

Keep in mind the  difference between primary and secondary sources as you search. Primary sources are firsthand accounts, like published articles or autobiographies; secondary sources are more removed, like critical reviews or secondhand biographies. 

When gathering your research, it’s better to skim sources instead of reading each potential source fully. If a source seems useful, set it aside to give it a full read later. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck poring over sources that you ultimately won’t use, and that time could be better spent finding a worthwhile source. 

Sometimes you’re required to submit a  literature review , which explains your sources and presents them to an authority for confirmation. Even if no literature review is required, it’s still helpful to compile an early list of potential sources—you’ll be glad you did later.  

4 Write a thesis statement

Using what you found in your preliminary research, write a  thesis statement that succinctly summarizes what your research paper will be about. This is usually the first sentence in your paper, making it your reader’s introduction to the topic. 

A thesis statement is the best answer for how to start a research paper. Aside from preparing your reader, the thesis statement also makes it easier for other researchers to assess whether or not your paper is useful to them for their own research. Likewise, you should read the thesis statements of other research papers to decide how useful they are to you. 

A good thesis statement mentions all the important parts of the discussion without disclosing too many of the details. If you’re having trouble putting it into words, try to phrase your topic as a question and then answer it . 

For example, if your research paper topic is about separating students with ADHD from other students, you’d first ask yourself, “Does separating students with ADHD improve their learning?” The answer—based on your preliminary research—is a good basis for your thesis statement. 

5 Determine supporting evidence

At this stage of how to write an academic research paper, it’s time to knuckle down and do the actual research. Here’s when you go through all the sources you collected earlier and find the specific information you’d like to use in your paper. 

Normally, you find your supporting evidence by reading each source and taking notes. Isolate only the information that’s directly relevant to your topic; don’t bog down your paper with tangents or unnecessary context, however interesting they may be. And always write down page numbers , not only for you to find the information later, but also because you’ll need them for your citations. 

Aside from highlighting text and writing notes, another common tactic is to use bibliography cards . These are simple index cards with a fact or direct quotation on one side and the bibliographical information (source citation, page numbers, subtopic category) on the other. While bibliography cards are not necessary, some students find them useful for staying organized, especially when it’s time to write an outline. 

6 Write a research paper outline

A lot of students want to know how to write a research paper outline. More than informal essays, research papers require a methodical and systematic structure to make sure all issues are addressed, and that makes outlines especially important. 

First make a list of all the important categories and subtopics you need to cover—an outline for your outline! Consider all the information you gathered when compiling your supporting evidence and ask yourself what the best way to separate and categorize everything is. 

Once you have a list of what you want to talk about, consider the best order to present the information. Which subtopics are related and should go next to each other? Are there any subtopics that don’t make sense if they’re presented out of sequence? If your information is fairly straightforward, feel free to take a chronological approach and present the information in the order it happened. 

Because research papers can get complicated, consider breaking your outline into paragraphs. For starters, this helps you stay organized if you have a lot of information to cover. Moreover, it gives you greater control over the flow and direction of the research paper. It’s always better to fix structural problems in the outline phase than later after everything’s already been written. 

Don’t forget to include your supporting evidence in the outline as well. Chances are you’ll have a lot you want to include, so putting it in your outline helps prevent some things from falling through the cracks. 

7 Write the first draft

Once your outline is finished, it’s time to start actually writing your research paper. This is by far the longest and most involved step, but if you’ve properly prepared your sources and written a thorough outline, everything should run smoothly. 

If you don’t know how to write an introduction for a research paper, the beginning can be difficult. That’s why writing your  thesis statement beforehand is crucial. Open with your thesis statement and then fill out the rest of your introduction with the secondary information—save the details for the body of your research paper, which comes next. 

The body contains the bulk of your research paper. Unlike  essays , research papers usually divide the body into sections with separate headers to facilitate browsing and scanning. Use the divisions in your outline as a guide. 

Follow along your outline and go paragraph by paragraph. Because this is just the first draft, don’t worry about getting each word perfect . Later you’ll be able to revise and fine-tune your writing, but for now focus simply on saying everything that needs to be said. In other words, it’s OK to make mistakes since you’ll go back later to correct them. 

One of the most common problems with writing long works like research papers is connecting paragraphs to each other. The longer your writing is, the harder it is to tie everything together smoothly. Use  transition sentences to improve the flow of your paper, especially for the first and last sentences in a paragraph. 

Even after the body is written, you still need to know how to write a conclusion for a research paper. Just like  an essay conclusion , your research paper conclusion should restate your thesis , reiterate your main evidence , and summarize your findings in a way that’s easy to understand. 

Don’t add any new information in your conclusion, but feel free to say your own personal perspective or interpretation if it helps the reader understand the big picture. 

8 Cite your sources correctly

Citations are part of what sets research papers apart from more casual nonfiction like personal essays . Citing your sources both validates your data and also links your research paper to the greater scientific community. Because of their importance, citations must follow precise formatting rules . . . problem is, there’s more than one set of rules!

You need to check with the assignment to see which formatting style is required. Typically, academic research papers follow one of two formatting styles for citing sources:

  • MLA (Modern Language Association)
  • APA (American Psychological Association)

The links above explain the specific formatting guidelines for each style, along with an automatic citation generator to help you get started. 

In addition to MLA and APA styles, you occasionally see requirements for  CMOS (The Chicago Manual of Style),  AMA (American Medical Association) and  IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). 

Citations may seem confusing at first with all their rules and specific information. However, once you get the hang of them, you’ll be able to properly cite your sources without even thinking about it. Keep in mind that each formatting style has specific guidelines for citing just about any kind of source, including photos , websites , speeches , and YouTube videos .

9 Edit and proofread

Last but not least, you want to go through your research paper to correct all the mistakes by  proofreading . We recommend going over it twice: once for structural issues such as adding/deleting parts or rearranging paragraphs and once for word choice, grammatical, and spelling mistakes. Doing two different editing sessions helps you focus on one area at a time instead of doing them both at once. 

To help you catch everything, here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind while you edit:

Structural edit:

  • Is your thesis statement clear and concise?
  • Is your paper well-organized, and does it flow from beginning to end with logical transitions?
  • Do your ideas follow a logical sequence in each paragraph?
  • Have you used concrete details and facts and avoided generalizations?
  • Do your arguments support and prove your thesis?
  • Have you avoided repetition?
  • Are your sources properly cited?
  • Have you checked for accidental plagiarism?

Word choice, grammar, and spelling edit:

  • Is your language clear and specific?
  • Do your sentences flow smoothly and clearly? 
  • Have you avoided  filler words and phrases ?
  • Have you checked for proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation? 

Some people find it useful to read their paper out loud to catch problems they might miss when reading in their head. Another solution is to have someone else read your paper and point out areas for improvement and/or technical mistakes. 

Revising is a separate skill from writing, and being good at one doesn’t necessarily make you good at the other. If you want to improve your revision skills, read our  guide on self-editing , which includes a more complete checklist and advanced tips on improving your revisions. 

Technical issues like grammatical mistakes and misspelled words can be handled effortlessly if you use a spellchecker with your word processor, or even better, a digital writing assistant that also suggests improvements for word choice and tone, like Grammarly (we explain more in the Tools and resources section below). 

Tools and resources

If you want to know more about how to write a research paper, or if you want some help with each step, take a look at the tools and resources below. 

Google Scholar

This is Google’s own search engine, which is dedicated exclusively to academic papers. It’s a great way to find new research and sources. Plus, it’s free to use. 

Zotero is a freemium, open-source research manager, a cross between an organizational CMS and a search engine for academic research. With it, you can browse the internet for research sources relevant to your topic and share them easily with colleagues. Also, it automatically generates citations. 

FocusWriter

Writing long research papers is always a strain on your attention span. If you have trouble avoiding distractions during those long stretches, FocusWriter might be able to help. FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor that removes all the distracting icons and sticks only to what you type. You’re also free to choose your own customized backgrounds, with other special features like timed alarms, daily goals, and optional typewriter sound effects. 

Google Charts

This useful and free tool from Google lets you create simple charts and graphs based on whatever data you input. Charts and graphs are excellent visual aids for expressing numeric data, a perfect complement if you need to explain complicated evidential research. 

Grammarly goes way beyond grammar, helping you hone word choice, checking your text for plagiarism, detecting your tone, and more. For foreign-language learners, it can make your English sound more fluent, and even those who speak English as their primary language benefit from Grammarly’s suggestions. 

Research paper FAQs

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that analyzes, evaluates, or interprets a single topic with empirical evidence and statistical data. 

When will I need to write a research paper in college?

Many college courses use research papers to test a student’s knowledge of a particular topic or their research skills in general. While research papers depend on the course or professor, you can expect to write at least a few before graduation. 

How do I determine a topic for my research paper?

If the topic is not assigned, try to find a topic that’s general enough to provide ample evidence but specific enough that you’re able to cover all the basics. If possible, choose a topic you’re personally interested in—it makes the work easier. 

Where can I conduct research for my paper?

Today most research is conducted either online or in libraries. Some topics might benefit from old periodicals like newspapers or magazines, as well as visual media like documentaries. Museums, parks, and historical monuments can also be useful. 

How do I cite sources for a research paper?

The correct formatting for citations depends on which style you’re using, so check the assignment guidelines. Most school research reports use either  MLA or  APA styles, although there are others. 

This article was originally written by Karen Hertzberg in 2017. It’s been updated to include new information.

guidelines how to write a research paper

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13.1 Formatting a Research Paper

Learning objectives.

  • Identify the major components of a research paper written using American Psychological Association (APA) style.
  • Apply general APA style and formatting conventions in a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn how to use APA style , the documentation and formatting style followed by the American Psychological Association, as well as MLA style , from the Modern Language Association. There are a few major formatting styles used in academic texts, including AMA, Chicago, and Turabian:

  • AMA (American Medical Association) for medicine, health, and biological sciences
  • APA (American Psychological Association) for education, psychology, and the social sciences
  • Chicago—a common style used in everyday publications like magazines, newspapers, and books
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) for English, literature, arts, and humanities
  • Turabian—another common style designed for its universal application across all subjects and disciplines

While all the formatting and citation styles have their own use and applications, in this chapter we focus our attention on the two styles you are most likely to use in your academic studies: APA and MLA.

If you find that the rules of proper source documentation are difficult to keep straight, you are not alone. Writing a good research paper is, in and of itself, a major intellectual challenge. Having to follow detailed citation and formatting guidelines as well may seem like just one more task to add to an already-too-long list of requirements.

Following these guidelines, however, serves several important purposes. First, it signals to your readers that your paper should be taken seriously as a student’s contribution to a given academic or professional field; it is the literary equivalent of wearing a tailored suit to a job interview. Second, it shows that you respect other people’s work enough to give them proper credit for it. Finally, it helps your reader find additional materials if he or she wishes to learn more about your topic.

Furthermore, producing a letter-perfect APA-style paper need not be burdensome. Yes, it requires careful attention to detail. However, you can simplify the process if you keep these broad guidelines in mind:

  • Work ahead whenever you can. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” includes tips for keeping track of your sources early in the research process, which will save time later on.
  • Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct during the editing stage. Again, putting in a little extra time early on can save time later.
  • Use the resources available to you. In addition to the guidelines provided in this chapter, you may wish to consult the APA website at http://www.apa.org or the Purdue University Online Writing lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu , which regularly updates its online style guidelines.

General Formatting Guidelines

This chapter provides detailed guidelines for using the citation and formatting conventions developed by the American Psychological Association, or APA. Writers in disciplines as diverse as astrophysics, biology, psychology, and education follow APA style. The major components of a paper written in APA style are listed in the following box.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper:

Body, which includes the following:

  • Headings and, if necessary, subheadings to organize the content
  • In-text citations of research sources
  • References page

All these components must be saved in one document, not as separate documents.

The title page of your paper includes the following information:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Name of the institution with which the author is affiliated
  • Header at the top of the page with the paper title (in capital letters) and the page number (If the title is lengthy, you may use a shortened form of it in the header.)

List the first three elements in the order given in the previous list, centered about one third of the way down from the top of the page. Use the headers and footers tool of your word-processing program to add the header, with the title text at the left and the page number in the upper-right corner. Your title page should look like the following example.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets cover page

The next page of your paper provides an abstract , or brief summary of your findings. An abstract does not need to be provided in every paper, but an abstract should be used in papers that include a hypothesis. A good abstract is concise—about one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty words—and is written in an objective, impersonal style. Your writing voice will not be as apparent here as in the body of your paper. When writing the abstract, take a just-the-facts approach, and summarize your research question and your findings in a few sentences.

In Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” , you read a paper written by a student named Jorge, who researched the effectiveness of low-carbohydrate diets. Read Jorge’s abstract. Note how it sums up the major ideas in his paper without going into excessive detail.

Beyond the Hype: Abstract

Write an abstract summarizing your paper. Briefly introduce the topic, state your findings, and sum up what conclusions you can draw from your research. Use the word count feature of your word-processing program to make sure your abstract does not exceed one hundred fifty words.

Depending on your field of study, you may sometimes write research papers that present extensive primary research, such as your own experiment or survey. In your abstract, summarize your research question and your findings, and briefly indicate how your study relates to prior research in the field.

Margins, Pagination, and Headings

APA style requirements also address specific formatting concerns, such as margins, pagination, and heading styles, within the body of the paper. Review the following APA guidelines.

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  • Set the top, bottom, and side margins of your paper at 1 inch.
  • Use double-spaced text throughout your paper.
  • Use a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, in a legible size (10- to 12-point).
  • Use continuous pagination throughout the paper, including the title page and the references section. Page numbers appear flush right within your header.
  • Section headings and subsection headings within the body of your paper use different types of formatting depending on the level of information you are presenting. Additional details from Jorge’s paper are provided.

Cover Page

Begin formatting the final draft of your paper according to APA guidelines. You may work with an existing document or set up a new document if you choose. Include the following:

  • Your title page
  • The abstract you created in Note 13.8 “Exercise 1”
  • Correct headers and page numbers for your title page and abstract

APA style uses section headings to organize information, making it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought and to know immediately what major topics are covered. Depending on the length and complexity of the paper, its major sections may also be divided into subsections, sub-subsections, and so on. These smaller sections, in turn, use different heading styles to indicate different levels of information. In essence, you are using headings to create a hierarchy of information.

The following heading styles used in APA formatting are listed in order of greatest to least importance:

  • Section headings use centered, boldface type. Headings use title case, with important words in the heading capitalized.
  • Subsection headings use left-aligned, boldface type. Headings use title case.
  • The third level uses left-aligned, indented, boldface type. Headings use a capital letter only for the first word, and they end in a period.
  • The fourth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are boldfaced and italicized.
  • The fifth level follows the same style used for the previous level, but the headings are italicized and not boldfaced.

Visually, the hierarchy of information is organized as indicated in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” .

Table 13.1 Section Headings

A college research paper may not use all the heading levels shown in Table 13.1 “Section Headings” , but you are likely to encounter them in academic journal articles that use APA style. For a brief paper, you may find that level 1 headings suffice. Longer or more complex papers may need level 2 headings or other lower-level headings to organize information clearly. Use your outline to craft your major section headings and determine whether any subtopics are substantial enough to require additional levels of headings.

Working with the document you developed in Note 13.11 “Exercise 2” , begin setting up the heading structure of the final draft of your research paper according to APA guidelines. Include your title and at least two to three major section headings, and follow the formatting guidelines provided above. If your major sections should be broken into subsections, add those headings as well. Use your outline to help you.

Because Jorge used only level 1 headings, his Exercise 3 would look like the following:

Citation Guidelines

In-text citations.

Throughout the body of your paper, include a citation whenever you quote or paraphrase material from your research sources. As you learned in Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , the purpose of citations is twofold: to give credit to others for their ideas and to allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired. Your in-text citations provide basic information about your source; each source you cite will have a longer entry in the references section that provides more detailed information.

In-text citations must provide the name of the author or authors and the year the source was published. (When a given source does not list an individual author, you may provide the source title or the name of the organization that published the material instead.) When directly quoting a source, it is also required that you include the page number where the quote appears in your citation.

This information may be included within the sentence or in a parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence, as in these examples.

Epstein (2010) points out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Here, the writer names the source author when introducing the quote and provides the publication date in parentheses after the author’s name. The page number appears in parentheses after the closing quotation marks and before the period that ends the sentence.

Addiction researchers caution that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

Here, the writer provides a parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence that includes the author’s name, the year of publication, and the page number separated by commas. Again, the parenthetical citation is placed after the closing quotation marks and before the period at the end of the sentence.

As noted in the book Junk Food, Junk Science (Epstein, 2010, p. 137), “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive.”

Here, the writer chose to mention the source title in the sentence (an optional piece of information to include) and followed the title with a parenthetical citation. Note that the parenthetical citation is placed before the comma that signals the end of the introductory phrase.

David Epstein’s book Junk Food, Junk Science (2010) pointed out that “junk food cannot be considered addictive in the same way that we think of psychoactive drugs as addictive” (p. 137).

Another variation is to introduce the author and the source title in your sentence and include the publication date and page number in parentheses within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. As long as you have included the essential information, you can choose the option that works best for that particular sentence and source.

Citing a book with a single author is usually a straightforward task. Of course, your research may require that you cite many other types of sources, such as books or articles with more than one author or sources with no individual author listed. You may also need to cite sources available in both print and online and nonprint sources, such as websites and personal interviews. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.2 “Citing and Referencing Techniques” and Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provide extensive guidelines for citing a variety of source types.

Writing at Work

APA is just one of several different styles with its own guidelines for documentation, formatting, and language usage. Depending on your field of interest, you may be exposed to additional styles, such as the following:

  • MLA style. Determined by the Modern Languages Association and used for papers in literature, languages, and other disciplines in the humanities.
  • Chicago style. Outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style and sometimes used for papers in the humanities and the sciences; many professional organizations use this style for publications as well.
  • Associated Press (AP) style. Used by professional journalists.

References List

The brief citations included in the body of your paper correspond to the more detailed citations provided at the end of the paper in the references section. In-text citations provide basic information—the author’s name, the publication date, and the page number if necessary—while the references section provides more extensive bibliographical information. Again, this information allows your reader to follow up on the sources you cited and do additional reading about the topic if desired.

The specific format of entries in the list of references varies slightly for different source types, but the entries generally include the following information:

  • The name(s) of the author(s) or institution that wrote the source
  • The year of publication and, where applicable, the exact date of publication
  • The full title of the source
  • For books, the city of publication
  • For articles or essays, the name of the periodical or book in which the article or essay appears
  • For magazine and journal articles, the volume number, issue number, and pages where the article appears
  • For sources on the web, the URL where the source is located

The references page is double spaced and lists entries in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. If an entry continues for more than one line, the second line and each subsequent line are indented five spaces. Review the following example. ( Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” , Section 13.3 “Creating a References Section” provides extensive guidelines for formatting reference entries for different types of sources.)

References Section

In APA style, book and article titles are formatted in sentence case, not title case. Sentence case means that only the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns.

Key Takeaways

  • Following proper citation and formatting guidelines helps writers ensure that their work will be taken seriously, give proper credit to other authors for their work, and provide valuable information to readers.
  • Working ahead and taking care to cite sources correctly the first time are ways writers can save time during the editing stage of writing a research paper.
  • APA papers usually include an abstract that concisely summarizes the paper.
  • APA papers use a specific headings structure to provide a clear hierarchy of information.
  • In APA papers, in-text citations usually include the name(s) of the author(s) and the year of publication.
  • In-text citations correspond to entries in the references section, which provide detailed bibliographical information about a source.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal

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  • Published: 30 April 2020
  • Volume 36 , pages 909–913, ( 2021 )

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Communicating research findings is an essential step in the research process. Often, peer-reviewed journals are the forum for such communication, yet many researchers are never taught how to write a publishable scientific paper. In this article, we explain the basic structure of a scientific paper and describe the information that should be included in each section. We also identify common pitfalls for each section and recommend strategies to avoid them. Further, we give advice about target journal selection and authorship. In the online resource 1 , we provide an example of a high-quality scientific paper, with annotations identifying the elements we describe in this article.

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Introduction

Writing a scientific paper is an important component of the research process, yet researchers often receive little formal training in scientific writing. This is especially true in low-resource settings. In this article, we explain why choosing a target journal is important, give advice about authorship, provide a basic structure for writing each section of a scientific paper, and describe common pitfalls and recommendations for each section. In the online resource 1 , we also include an annotated journal article that identifies the key elements and writing approaches that we detail here. Before you begin your research, make sure you have ethical clearance from all relevant ethical review boards.

Select a Target Journal Early in the Writing Process

We recommend that you select a “target journal” early in the writing process; a “target journal” is the journal to which you plan to submit your paper. Each journal has a set of core readers and you should tailor your writing to this readership. For example, if you plan to submit a manuscript about vaping during pregnancy to a pregnancy-focused journal, you will need to explain what vaping is because readers of this journal may not have a background in this topic. However, if you were to submit that same article to a tobacco journal, you would not need to provide as much background information about vaping.

Information about a journal’s core readership can be found on its website, usually in a section called “About this journal” or something similar. For example, the Journal of Cancer Education presents such information on the “Aims and Scope” page of its website, which can be found here: https://www.springer.com/journal/13187/aims-and-scope .

Peer reviewer guidelines from your target journal are an additional resource that can help you tailor your writing to the journal and provide additional advice about crafting an effective article [ 1 ]. These are not always available, but it is worth a quick web search to find out.

Identify Author Roles Early in the Process

Early in the writing process, identify authors, determine the order of authors, and discuss the responsibilities of each author. Standard author responsibilities have been identified by The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) [ 2 ]. To set clear expectations about each team member’s responsibilities and prevent errors in communication, we also suggest outlining more detailed roles, such as who will draft each section of the manuscript, write the abstract, submit the paper electronically, serve as corresponding author, and write the cover letter. It is best to formalize this agreement in writing after discussing it, circulating the document to the author team for approval. We suggest creating a title page on which all authors are listed in the agreed-upon order. It may be necessary to adjust authorship roles and order during the development of the paper. If a new author order is agreed upon, be sure to update the title page in the manuscript draft.

In the case where multiple papers will result from a single study, authors should discuss who will author each paper. Additionally, authors should agree on a deadline for each paper and the lead author should take responsibility for producing an initial draft by this deadline.

Structure of the Introduction Section

The introduction section should be approximately three to five paragraphs in length. Look at examples from your target journal to decide the appropriate length. This section should include the elements shown in Fig.  1 . Begin with a general context, narrowing to the specific focus of the paper. Include five main elements: why your research is important, what is already known about the topic, the “gap” or what is not yet known about the topic, why it is important to learn the new information that your research adds, and the specific research aim(s) that your paper addresses. Your research aim should address the gap you identified. Be sure to add enough background information to enable readers to understand your study. Table 1 provides common introduction section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

figure 1

The main elements of the introduction section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap

Methods Section

The purpose of the methods section is twofold: to explain how the study was done in enough detail to enable its replication and to provide enough contextual detail to enable readers to understand and interpret the results. In general, the essential elements of a methods section are the following: a description of the setting and participants, the study design and timing, the recruitment and sampling, the data collection process, the dataset, the dependent and independent variables, the covariates, the analytic approach for each research objective, and the ethical approval. The hallmark of an exemplary methods section is the justification of why each method was used. Table 2 provides common methods section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Results Section

The focus of the results section should be associations, or lack thereof, rather than statistical tests. Two considerations should guide your writing here. First, the results should present answers to each part of the research aim. Second, return to the methods section to ensure that the analysis and variables for each result have been explained.

Begin the results section by describing the number of participants in the final sample and details such as the number who were approached to participate, the proportion who were eligible and who enrolled, and the number of participants who dropped out. The next part of the results should describe the participant characteristics. After that, you may organize your results by the aim or by putting the most exciting results first. Do not forget to report your non-significant associations. These are still findings.

Tables and figures capture the reader’s attention and efficiently communicate your main findings [ 3 ]. Each table and figure should have a clear message and should complement, rather than repeat, the text. Tables and figures should communicate all salient details necessary for a reader to understand the findings without consulting the text. Include information on comparisons and tests, as well as information about the sample and timing of the study in the title, legend, or in a footnote. Note that figures are often more visually interesting than tables, so if it is feasible to make a figure, make a figure. To avoid confusing the reader, either avoid abbreviations in tables and figures, or define them in a footnote. Note that there should not be citations in the results section and you should not interpret results here. Table 3 provides common results section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Discussion Section

Opposite the introduction section, the discussion should take the form of a right-side-up triangle beginning with interpretation of your results and moving to general implications (Fig.  2 ). This section typically begins with a restatement of the main findings, which can usually be accomplished with a few carefully-crafted sentences.

figure 2

Major elements of the discussion section of an original research article. Often, the elements overlap

Next, interpret the meaning or explain the significance of your results, lifting the reader’s gaze from the study’s specific findings to more general applications. Then, compare these study findings with other research. Are these findings in agreement or disagreement with those from other studies? Does this study impart additional nuance to well-accepted theories? Situate your findings within the broader context of scientific literature, then explain the pathways or mechanisms that might give rise to, or explain, the results.

Journals vary in their approach to strengths and limitations sections: some are embedded paragraphs within the discussion section, while some mandate separate section headings. Keep in mind that every study has strengths and limitations. Candidly reporting yours helps readers to correctly interpret your research findings.

The next element of the discussion is a summary of the potential impacts and applications of the research. Should these results be used to optimally design an intervention? Does the work have implications for clinical protocols or public policy? These considerations will help the reader to further grasp the possible impacts of the presented work.

Finally, the discussion should conclude with specific suggestions for future work. Here, you have an opportunity to illuminate specific gaps in the literature that compel further study. Avoid the phrase “future research is necessary” because the recommendation is too general to be helpful to readers. Instead, provide substantive and specific recommendations for future studies. Table 4 provides common discussion section pitfalls and recommendations for addressing them.

Follow the Journal’s Author Guidelines

After you select a target journal, identify the journal’s author guidelines to guide the formatting of your manuscript and references. Author guidelines will often (but not always) include instructions for titles, cover letters, and other components of a manuscript submission. Read the guidelines carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, your article will be sent back to you.

Finally, do not submit your paper to more than one journal at a time. Even if this is not explicitly stated in the author guidelines of your target journal, it is considered inappropriate and unprofessional.

Your title should invite readers to continue reading beyond the first page [ 4 , 5 ]. It should be informative and interesting. Consider describing the independent and dependent variables, the population and setting, the study design, the timing, and even the main result in your title. Because the focus of the paper can change as you write and revise, we recommend you wait until you have finished writing your paper before composing the title.

Be sure that the title is useful for potential readers searching for your topic. The keywords you select should complement those in your title to maximize the likelihood that a researcher will find your paper through a database search. Avoid using abbreviations in your title unless they are very well known, such as SNP, because it is more likely that someone will use a complete word rather than an abbreviation as a search term to help readers find your paper.

After you have written a complete draft, use the checklist (Fig. 3 ) below to guide your revisions and editing. Additional resources are available on writing the abstract and citing references [ 5 ]. When you feel that your work is ready, ask a trusted colleague or two to read the work and provide informal feedback. The box below provides a checklist that summarizes the key points offered in this article.

figure 3

Checklist for manuscript quality

Data Availability

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Vetto JT (2014) Short and sweet: a short course on concise medical writing. J Cancer Educ 29(1):194–195

Brett M, Kording K (2017) Ten simple rules for structuring papers. PLoS ComputBiol. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005619

Lang TA (2017) Writing a better research article. J Public Health Emerg. https://doi.org/10.21037/jphe.2017.11.06

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Acknowledgments

Ella August is grateful to the Sustainable Sciences Institute for mentoring her in training researchers on writing and publishing their research.

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Clara Busse & Ella August

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Busse, C., August, E. How to Write and Publish a Research Paper for a Peer-Reviewed Journal. J Canc Educ 36 , 909–913 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z

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Published : 30 April 2020

Issue Date : October 2021

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s13187-020-01751-z

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Enago Academy

  • Step 1: Sections in a Research Paper
  • Step 2: Order for Preparation
  • Step 3: Conceptualizing an Attractive Title
  • Step 4: Effectively Reviewing Literature
  • Step 5: Drafting the Abstract
  • Step 6: Drafting Introduction
  • Step 7: Drafting Materials and Methods
  • Step 8: Drafting Results
  • Step 9: Drafting Discussion
  • Step 10: Drafting the Conclusion
  • Step 11: Citing and Referencing
  • Step 12: Preparing Figures
  • Step 13: Preparing Tables
  • Step 14: Assigning Authorship
  • Step 15: Acknowledgements Section
  • Step 16: Checking the Author Guidelines
  • Step 17: Proofreading and Editing
  • Step 18: Pre-submission Peer-Review
  • Step 1: How to Structure a Research Paper?
  • Step 3: How to Conceptualize an Attractive Research Paper Title?
  • Step 4: How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review
  • Step 5: How to Write a Good Research Paper Abstract
  • Step 6: How to Write a Compelling Introduction for a Research Paper
  • Step 7: How to Write the Materials and Methods Section of a Research Paper
  • Step 8: How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper
  • Step 9: How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
  • Step 10: How to Write the Conclusion of a Research Paper
  • Step 15: How to Write an Acknowledgment Section for a Research Paper

How to Write a Research Paper – A to Z of Academic Writing

Part of a scientist’s job is to publish research. In fact, some would argue that your experiment is only complete once you have published the results. This makes it available to the scientific community for authentication and the advancement of science. In addition, publishing is essential for a researcher’s career as it validates the research and opens doors for funding and employment. In this section, we give you a step-by-step guide to help you write an effective research paper. So, remember to set aside half an hour each day to write. This habit will make your writing manageable and keep you focused.

There are different types of research papers. The most common ones include:

Original research paper, rapid communication or letter, review article, meeting abstract, paper, and proceedings.

guidelines how to write a research paper

This is a full report written by researchers covering the analysis of their experimental study from start to finish. It is the most common type research manuscript that is published in academic journals. Original articles are expected to follow the IMRAD format.

These are usually written to publish results urgently in rapidly changing or highly competitive fields. They will be brief and may not be separated by headings.It consists of original preliminary results that are likely to have a significant impact in the respective field.

This is a comprehensive summary of a certain topic. It is usually requested by a journal editor and written by a leader in the field. It includes current assessment, latest findings, and future directions of the field. It is a massive undertaking in which approximately 100 research articles are cited. Uninvited reviews are published too, but it is best to send a pre-submission enquiry letter to the journal editor first.

This is mostly used in the medical field to report interesting occurrences such as previously unknown or emerging pathologies. It could be a report of a single case or multiple cases and will include a short introduction, methods, results, and discussion.

This is a brief report of research presented at an organized meeting such as a conference. These range from an abstract to a full report of the research. It needs to be focused and clear in explaining your topic and the main points of the study that will be shared with the audience.

  • STEP 1: How to Structure a Research Paper?
  • STEP 2: Order for Preparation of the Manuscript
  • STEP 3: How to Conceptualize an Attractive Research Paper Title?
  • STEP 4: How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review
  • STEP 5: How to Write a Good Research Paper Abstract
  • STEP 6: How to Write a Compelling Introduction for a Research Paper
  • STEP 7: How to Write the Materials and Methods Section of a Research Paper
  • STEP 8: How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper
  • STEP 9: How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper
  • STEP 10: How to Write the Conclusion of a Research Paper
  • STEP 11: Effectively Citing and Referencing Your Sources
  • STEP 12: Preparing Figures
  • STEP 13: Preparing Tables
  • STEP 14: Assigning Authorship
  • STEP 15: How to Write an Acknowledgment Section for a Research Paper
  • STEP 16: Checking the Author Guidelines Before Preparing the Manuscript
  • STEP 17: Proofreading and Editing Your Manuscript
  • STEP 18: Pre-submission Peer-Review

How to Structure a Research Paper?

Your research paper should tell a story of how you began your research, what you found, and how it advances your research field. It is important to structure your research paper so that editors and readers can easily find information. The widely adopted structure that research papers mostly follow is the IMRaD format . IMRaD stands for Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. Additional requirements from journals include an abstract, keywords, acknowledgements, and references. This format helps scientists to tell their story in an organized manner. Authors often find it easier to write the IMRaD sections in a different order. However, the final paper should be collated in the IMRaD format as follows:

guidelines how to write a research paper

Case studies follow a slightly different format to the traditional IMRAD format. They include the following extra sections:

  • History and physical examination: Details of the patient’s history. It provides the story of when a patient first sought medical care.
  • Diagnostic focus and assessment : Describe the steps taken that lead to a diagnosis and any test results.
  • Therapeutic focus and assessment: Explain therapies tried and any other recommendations from consultants. Assess the efficacy of the treatments given.
  • Follow-up and outcome: Provide results and state the patient adhered to treatment. Include any side effects.
  • Patient perspective: Describe the patient’s experience.
  • Patient consent: State that informed consent was obtained from the patient.

Order for Preparation of the Manuscript

As mentioned above, most research publications follow the IMRAD format. However, it is often easier to write each section in a different order than that of the final paper.

Authors recommend you organize the data first and then write the sections as follows:

  • Figures and tables: Decide how your data should be presented. You can use graphics, tables or describe it in the text.
  • Methods: It is important that anyone can use your methods to reproduce your experiments.
  • Results: Here you write only what the results of your experiments were. You do not discuss them here.
  • Discussion: This section requires analysis, thought, and a thorough understanding of the literature. You need to discuss your results without repeating the results section.
  • Conclusion: This section can either be under a sub-heading or the last paragraph of the discussion. It should inform the reader how your results advance the field.
  • Introduction: Now that you have thought about your results in the context of the literature, you can write your introduction.
  • Abstract: This is an overview of your paper. Give a concise background of the problem and how you tried to solve it. Next state your main findings.
  • Title: As discussed above, this needs to be concise as well as informative. Ensure that it makes sense.
  • Keywords: These are used for indexing. Keywords need to be specific. Often you are not allowed to use words that appear in the journal name. Use abbreviations with care and only well-established ones.
  • Acknowledgements: This section is to thank anyone involved in the research that does not qualify as an author.
  • References: Check the “Guide for authors” for the formatting style. Be accurate and do not include unnecessary references.

How to Conceptualize an Attractive Research Paper Title?

Your research title is the first impression of your paper. A good research paper title is a brief description of the topic, method, sample, and results of your study. A useful formula you could use is:

guidelines how to write a research paper

There are different ways to write a research paper title :

Declarative

State the main conclusions. Example: Mixed strains of probiotics improve antibiotic associated diarrhea.

Descriptive

Describe the subject. Example: Effects of mixed strains of probiotics on antibiotic associated diarrhea.

Interrogative

Use a question for the subject. Example: Do mixed strains of probiotics improve antibiotic associated diarrhea?

We recommend the following five top tips to conceptualize an attractive research title:

  • Be descriptive
  • Use a low word count (5-15 words)
  • Check journal guidelines
  • Avoid jargon and symbols

How to Conduct an Effective Literature Review

The process of conducting a literature review can be overwhelming. However, if you start with a clear research question, you can stay focused.

  • Literature search: Search for articles related to your research question. Keep notes of the search terms and keywords you use. A list of databases to search and notes of the ones you have searched will prevent duplicate searches.

- What is their research question?

- Are there potential conflicts of interest such as funders who may want a particular result?

- Are their methods sufficient to test the objectives?

- Can you identify any flaws in the research?

- Do their results make sense, or could there be other reasons for their conclusion?

- Are the authors respected in the field?

- Has the research been cited?

- Introduction: Here you introduce the topic. The introduction describes the problem and identifies gaps in knowledge. It also rationalizes your research.

- Discussion: Here you support and compare your results. Use the literature to put your research in context with the current state of knowledge. Furthermore, show how your research has advanced the field.

How to Write a Good Research Paper Abstract

The importance of research paper abstracts  cannot be emphasized enough.

  • They are used by online databases to index large research works. Therefore, critical keywords must be used.
  • Editors and reviewers read an abstract to decide whether an article is worth considering for publication.
  • Readers use an abstract to decide whether the research is relevant to them.

A good research paper abstract is a concise and appealing synopsis of your research. There are two ways to write an abstract:  structured and unstructured research abstracts . The author guidelines of the journal you are submitting your research to will tell you the format they require.

  • The structured abstract has distinct sections with headings. This style enables a reader to easily find the relevant information under clear headings (objective, methods, results, and conclusion). Think of each section as a question and provide a concise but detailed answer under each heading.
  • The unstructured abstract is a narrative paragraph of your research. It is similar to the structured abstract but does not contain headings. It gives the context, findings, conclusion, and implications of your paper.

How to Write a Compelling Introduction for a Research Paper

The Introduction section of your research paper introduces your research  in the context of the knowledge in the field. First introduce the topic including the problem you are addressing, the importance of solving this problem, and known research and gaps in the knowledge. Then narrow it down to your research questions and hypothesis.

Tips to write an effective introduction for your research paper :

  • Give broad background information about the problem.
  • Write it in a logical manner so that the reader can follow your thought process.
  • Focus on the problem you intend to solve with your research
  • Note any solutions in the literature thus far.
  • Propose your solution to the problem with reasons.

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guidelines how to write a research paper

How to Write the Materials and Methods Section of a Research Paper

When writing the Materials and Methods section of a research paper, you need to give enough detail in your methods  so that others can reproduce your experiments. However, there is no need to detail established experiments. Readers can find these details in the previously published references you refer to in the methods. Follow these tips to write the Materials and Methods section of your research paper: :

  • Write in the past tense because you are reporting on procedures you carried out.
  • Avoid unnecessary details that disrupts the flow.
  • Materials and equipments should be mentioned throughout the procedure, rather than listed at the beginning of a section.
  • Detail any ethics or consent requirements if your study included humans or animal subjects.
  • Use standard nomenclature and numbers.
  • Ensure you have the correct control experiments.
  • Methods should be listed logically.
  • Detail statistical methods used to analyze your data.

Here is a checklist of things that should be in your Materials and Methods:

  • References of previously published methods.
  • Study settings : If the research involves studying a population, give location and context of the site.
  • Cell lines : Give their source and detail any contamination tests performed.
  • Antibodies : Give details such as catalogue numbers, citations, dilutions used, and batch numbers.
  • Animal models : Species, age, and sex of animals as well as ethical compliance information.
  • Human subjects : Ethics committee requirements and a statement confirming you received informed consent. If relevant, clinical trial registration numbers and selection criteria.
  • Data accession codes for data you deposited in a repository.
  • Software : Where you obtained the programs and their version numbers.
  • Statistics : Criteria for including or excluding samples or subjects, randomisation methods, details of investigator blinding to avoid bias, appropriateness of statistical tests used for your study.
  • Timeframes if relevant.

How to Write the Results Section of a Research Paper

Some journals combine the results and discussion section, whereas others have separate headings for each section. If the two sections are combined, you state the results of your research   and discuss them immediately afterwards, before presenting your next set of results.  The challenge is to present your data in a way that is logical and accurate. Set out your results in the same order as you set out your methods.

When writing the Results section of your research paper remember to include:

  • Control group data.
  • Relevant statistical values such as p-values.
  • Visual illustrations of your results such as figures and tables.

Things that do not belong in the results section:

  • Speculation or commentary about the results.
  • References – you are reporting your own data.
  • Do not repeat data in text if it has been presented in a table or graph.

Keep the discussion section separate . Keep explanations, interpretations, limitations, and comparisons to the literature for the discussion.

How to Write the Discussion Section of a Research Paper

The discussion section of your research paper answers several questions such as: did you achieve your objectives? How do your results compare to other studies? Were there any limitations to your research? Start discussing your data specifically and then broaden out to how it furthers your field of interest.

Questions to get you started:

  • How do your results answer your objectives?
  • Why do you think your results are different to published data?
  • Do you think further research would help clarify any issues with your data?

The aim is to tell the reader what your results mean. Structure the discussion section of your research paper  in a logical manner. Start with an introductory paragraph where you set out the context and main aims of the study. Do this without repeating the introduction. Some authors prefer starting with the major findings first to keep the readers interested.

The next paragraph should discuss what you found, how it compares to other studies, any limitations, your opinion, and what they mean for the field.

The concluding paragraph should talk about the major outcomes of the study. Be careful not to write your conclusion here. Merely highlight the main themes emerging from your data.

Tips to write an effective discussion:

  • It is not a literature review. Keep your comments relevant to your results.
  • Interpret your results.
  • Be concise and remove unnecessary words.
  • Do not include results not presented in the result section.
  • Ensure your conclusions are supported by your data.

How to Write the Conclusion of a Research Paper

While writing the conclusion for your research paper, give a summary of your research with emphasis on your findings. Again, structuring the conclusion section of your research paper  will make it easier to draft this section. Here are some tips when writing the conclusion of your paper:

  • State what you set out to achieve.
  • Tell the reader what your major findings were.
  • How has your study contributed to the field?
  • Mention any limitations.
  • End with recommendations for future research.

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guidelines how to write a research paper

Effectively Citing and Referencing Your Sources

You need to acknowledge the original work  that you talk about in your write-up. There are two reasons for this. First, cite someone’s idea  to avoid plagiarism. Plagiarism is when you use words or ideas of others without acknowledging them and this is a serious offence. Second, readers will be able to source the literature you cited easily.

This is done by citing works  in your text and providing the full reference for this citation in a reference list at the end of your document.

Tips for effective refencing/citations:

  • Keep a detailed list of your references including author(s), publication, year of publication, title, and page numbers.
  • Insert a citation (either a number or author name) in-text as you write.
  • List the full reference in a reference list according to the style required by the publication.
  • Pay attention to details as mistakes will misdirect readers.

Try referencing software tools “cite while you write”. Examples of such referencing software programs include: Mendeley , Endnote , Refworks  and Zotero .

Preparing Figures

Some quick tips about figures:

  • Legends of graphs and tables must be self-explanatory.
  • Use easily distinguishable symbols.
  • Place long tables of data in the supplementary material.
  • Include a scale bar in photographs.

Preparing Tables

Important pointers for tables:

  • Check the author guidelines for table formatting requirements.
  • Tables do not have vertical lines in publications.
  • Legends must be self-explanatory.

Assigning Authorship

To qualify as an author  on a paper, an individual must:

  • Make substantial contributions to all stages of the research.
  • Draft or revise the manuscript.
  • Approve the final version of the article.
  • Be accountable for the accuracy and integrity of the research.

Unethical and unprofessional authorships  have emerged over the years. These include:

  • Gift authorship : An individual is listed as a co-author in lieu of funding or supervision.
  • Ghost authorship : An author is paid to write an article but does not contribute to the article in any other way.
  • Guest authorship : An individual who is given authorship because they are well known and respected in the field, or they are senior members of staff.

These authors pose a threat to research. Readers may override their concerns with an article if it includes a well-respected co-author. This is especially problematic when decisions about medical interventions are concerned.

How to Write an Acknowledgment Section for a Research Paper

Those who do not qualify as authors but have contributed to the research should be given credit in the acknowledgements section of your research paper . These include funders, supervisors, administrative supporters, writing, editing, and proofreading assistance .

The contributions made by these individuals should be stated and sometimes their written permission to be acknowledged is required by editors.

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guidelines how to write a research paper

Points to Note from the Author Instructions Before Preparing the Manuscript

Check the author guidelines for your chosen publication before submission. Publishers mostly have a “House Style” that ensures all their manuscripts are consistent with regards to language, formatting, and style. For example, these guidelines will tell you whether to use UK or US English, which abbreviations are allowed, and how to format figures and tables. They are also especially important for the references section as each journal has their own style.

Proofreading/Editing your Manuscript

Ensure that your manuscript is structured correctly, clearly written, contains the correct technical language, and supports your claims with proper evidence. To ensure the structure is correct, it is essential to edit your paper .

Once you are happy with the manuscript, proofread for small errors. These could be spelling, consistency, spacing, and so forth. Importantly, check that figures and tables include all the necessary data and statistical values. Seek assistance from colleagues or professional editing companies to edit and proofread your manuscript too.

Pre-submission Peer-Review of Your Manuscript

A pre-submission peer-review  could improve the quality of articles submitted to journals in general. The benefits include:

  • A fresh eye to spot gaps or errors.
  • Receiving constructive feedback on your work and writing.
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  • How to write a research paper

Last updated

11 January 2024

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With proper planning, knowledge, and framework, completing a research paper can be a fulfilling and exciting experience. 

Though it might initially sound slightly intimidating, this guide will help you embrace the challenge. 

By documenting your findings, you can inspire others and make a difference in your field. Here's how you can make your research paper unique and comprehensive.

  • What is a research paper?

Research papers allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a particular topic. These papers are usually lengthier and more detailed than typical essays, requiring deeper insight into the chosen topic.

To write a research paper, you must first choose a topic that interests you and is relevant to the field of study. Once you’ve selected your topic, gathering as many relevant resources as possible, including books, scholarly articles, credible websites, and other academic materials, is essential. You must then read and analyze these sources, summarizing their key points and identifying gaps in the current research.

You can formulate your ideas and opinions once you thoroughly understand the existing research. To get there might involve conducting original research, gathering data, or analyzing existing data sets. It could also involve presenting an original argument or interpretation of the existing research.

Writing a successful research paper involves presenting your findings clearly and engagingly, which might involve using charts, graphs, or other visual aids to present your data and using concise language to explain your findings. You must also ensure your paper adheres to relevant academic formatting guidelines, including proper citations and references.

Overall, writing a research paper requires a significant amount of time, effort, and attention to detail. However, it is also an enriching experience that allows you to delve deeply into a subject that interests you and contribute to the existing body of knowledge in your chosen field.

  • How long should a research paper be?

Research papers are deep dives into a topic. Therefore, they tend to be longer pieces of work than essays or opinion pieces. 

However, a suitable length depends on the complexity of the topic and your level of expertise. For instance, are you a first-year college student or an experienced professional? 

Also, remember that the best research papers provide valuable information for the benefit of others. Therefore, the quality of information matters most, not necessarily the length. Being concise is valuable.

Following these best practice steps will help keep your process simple and productive:

1. Gaining a deep understanding of any expectations

Before diving into your intended topic or beginning the research phase, take some time to orient yourself. Suppose there’s a specific topic assigned to you. In that case, it’s essential to deeply understand the question and organize your planning and approach in response. Pay attention to the key requirements and ensure you align your writing accordingly. 

This preparation step entails

Deeply understanding the task or assignment

Being clear about the expected format and length

Familiarizing yourself with the citation and referencing requirements 

Understanding any defined limits for your research contribution

Where applicable, speaking to your professor or research supervisor for further clarification

2. Choose your research topic

Select a research topic that aligns with both your interests and available resources. Ideally, focus on a field where you possess significant experience and analytical skills. In crafting your research paper, it's crucial to go beyond summarizing existing data and contribute fresh insights to the chosen area.

Consider narrowing your focus to a specific aspect of the topic. For example, if exploring the link between technology and mental health, delve into how social media use during the pandemic impacts the well-being of college students. Conducting interviews and surveys with students could provide firsthand data and unique perspectives, adding substantial value to the existing knowledge.

When finalizing your topic, adhere to legal and ethical norms in the relevant area (this ensures the integrity of your research, protects participants' rights, upholds intellectual property standards, and ensures transparency and accountability). Following these principles not only maintains the credibility of your work but also builds trust within your academic or professional community.

For instance, in writing about medical research, consider legal and ethical norms, including patient confidentiality laws and informed consent requirements. Similarly, if analyzing user data on social media platforms, be mindful of data privacy regulations, ensuring compliance with laws governing personal information collection and use. Aligning with legal and ethical standards not only avoids potential issues but also underscores the responsible conduct of your research.

3. Gather preliminary research

Once you’ve landed on your topic, it’s time to explore it further. You’ll want to discover more about available resources and existing research relevant to your assignment at this stage. 

This exploratory phase is vital as you may discover issues with your original idea or realize you have insufficient resources to explore the topic effectively. This key bit of groundwork allows you to redirect your research topic in a different, more feasible, or more relevant direction if necessary. 

Spending ample time at this stage ensures you gather everything you need, learn as much as you can about the topic, and discover gaps where the topic has yet to be sufficiently covered, offering an opportunity to research it further. 

4. Define your research question

To produce a well-structured and focused paper, it is imperative to formulate a clear and precise research question that will guide your work. Your research question must be informed by the existing literature and tailored to the scope and objectives of your project. By refining your focus, you can produce a thoughtful and engaging paper that effectively communicates your ideas to your readers.

5. Write a thesis statement

A thesis statement is a one-to-two-sentence summary of your research paper's main argument or direction. It serves as an overall guide to summarize the overall intent of the research paper for you and anyone wanting to know more about the research.

A strong thesis statement is:

Concise and clear: Explain your case in simple sentences (avoid covering multiple ideas). It might help to think of this section as an elevator pitch.

Specific: Ensure that there is no ambiguity in your statement and that your summary covers the points argued in the paper.

Debatable: A thesis statement puts forward a specific argument––it is not merely a statement but a debatable point that can be analyzed and discussed.

Here are three thesis statement examples from different disciplines:

Psychology thesis example: "We're studying adults aged 25-40 to see if taking short breaks for mindfulness can help with stress. Our goal is to find practical ways to manage anxiety better."

Environmental science thesis example: "This research paper looks into how having more city parks might make the air cleaner and keep people healthier. I want to find out if more green spaces means breathing fewer carcinogens in big cities."

UX research thesis example: "This study focuses on improving mobile banking for older adults using ethnographic research, eye-tracking analysis, and interactive prototyping. We investigate the usefulness of eye-tracking analysis with older individuals, aiming to spark debate and offer fresh perspectives on UX design and digital inclusivity for the aging population."

6. Conduct in-depth research

A research paper doesn’t just include research that you’ve uncovered from other papers and studies but your fresh insights, too. You will seek to become an expert on your topic––understanding the nuances in the current leading theories. You will analyze existing research and add your thinking and discoveries.  It's crucial to conduct well-designed research that is rigorous, robust, and based on reliable sources. Suppose a research paper lacks evidence or is biased. In that case, it won't benefit the academic community or the general public. Therefore, examining the topic thoroughly and furthering its understanding through high-quality research is essential. That usually means conducting new research. Depending on the area under investigation, you may conduct surveys, interviews, diary studies, or observational research to uncover new insights or bolster current claims.

7. Determine supporting evidence

Not every piece of research you’ve discovered will be relevant to your research paper. It’s important to categorize the most meaningful evidence to include alongside your discoveries. It's important to include evidence that doesn't support your claims to avoid exclusion bias and ensure a fair research paper.

8. Write a research paper outline

Before diving in and writing the whole paper, start with an outline. It will help you to see if more research is needed, and it will provide a framework by which to write a more compelling paper. Your supervisor may even request an outline to approve before beginning to write the first draft of the full paper. An outline will include your topic, thesis statement, key headings, short summaries of the research, and your arguments.

9. Write your first draft

Once you feel confident about your outline and sources, it’s time to write your first draft. While penning a long piece of content can be intimidating, if you’ve laid the groundwork, you will have a structure to help you move steadily through each section. To keep up motivation and inspiration, it’s often best to keep the pace quick. Stopping for long periods can interrupt your flow and make jumping back in harder than writing when things are fresh in your mind.

10. Cite your sources correctly

It's always a good practice to give credit where it's due, and the same goes for citing any works that have influenced your paper. Building your arguments on credible references adds value and authenticity to your research. In the formatting guidelines section, you’ll find an overview of different citation styles (MLA, CMOS, or APA), which will help you meet any publishing or academic requirements and strengthen your paper's credibility. It is essential to follow the guidelines provided by your school or the publication you are submitting to ensure the accuracy and relevance of your citations.

11. Ensure your work is original

It is crucial to ensure the originality of your paper, as plagiarism can lead to serious consequences. To avoid plagiarism, you should use proper paraphrasing and quoting techniques. Paraphrasing is rewriting a text in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. Quoting involves directly citing the source. Giving credit to the original author or source is essential whenever you borrow their ideas or words. You can also use plagiarism detection tools such as Scribbr or Grammarly to check the originality of your paper. These tools compare your draft writing to a vast database of online sources. If you find any accidental plagiarism, you should correct it immediately by rephrasing or citing the source.

12. Revise, edit, and proofread

One of the essential qualities of excellent writers is their ability to understand the importance of editing and proofreading. Even though it's tempting to call it a day once you've finished your writing, editing your work can significantly improve its quality. It's natural to overlook the weaker areas when you've just finished writing a paper. Therefore, it's best to take a break of a day or two, or even up to a week, to refresh your mind. This way, you can return to your work with a new perspective. After some breathing room, you can spot any inconsistencies, spelling and grammar errors, typos, or missing citations and correct them. 

  • The best research paper format 

The format of your research paper should align with the requirements set forth by your college, school, or target publication. 

There is no one “best” format, per se. Depending on the stated requirements, you may need to include the following elements:

Title page: The title page of a research paper typically includes the title, author's name, and institutional affiliation and may include additional information such as a course name or instructor's name. 

Table of contents: Include a table of contents to make it easy for readers to find specific sections of your paper.

Abstract: The abstract is a summary of the purpose of the paper.

Methods : In this section, describe the research methods used. This may include collecting data, conducting interviews, or doing field research.

Results: Summarize the conclusions you drew from your research in this section.

Discussion: In this section, discuss the implications of your research. Be sure to mention any significant limitations to your approach and suggest areas for further research.

Tables, charts, and illustrations: Use tables, charts, and illustrations to help convey your research findings and make them easier to understand.

Works cited or reference page: Include a works cited or reference page to give credit to the sources that you used to conduct your research.

Bibliography: Provide a list of all the sources you consulted while conducting your research.

Dedication and acknowledgments : Optionally, you may include a dedication and acknowledgments section to thank individuals who helped you with your research.

  • General style and formatting guidelines

Formatting your research paper means you can submit it to your college, journal, or other publications in compliance with their criteria.

Research papers tend to follow the American Psychological Association (APA), Modern Language Association (MLA), or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) guidelines.

Here’s how each style guide is typically used:

Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS):

CMOS is a versatile style guide used for various types of writing. It's known for its flexibility and use in the humanities. CMOS provides guidelines for citations, formatting, and overall writing style. It allows for both footnotes and in-text citations, giving writers options based on their preferences or publication requirements.

American Psychological Association (APA):

APA is common in the social sciences. It’s hailed for its clarity and emphasis on precision. It has specific rules for citing sources, creating references, and formatting papers. APA style uses in-text citations with an accompanying reference list. It's designed to convey information efficiently and is widely used in academic and scientific writing.

Modern Language Association (MLA):

MLA is widely used in the humanities, especially literature and language studies. It emphasizes the author-page format for in-text citations and provides guidelines for creating a "Works Cited" page. MLA is known for its focus on the author's name and the literary works cited. It’s frequently used in disciplines that prioritize literary analysis and critical thinking.

To confirm you're using the latest style guide, check the official website or publisher's site for updates, consult academic resources, and verify the guide's publication date. Online platforms and educational resources may also provide summaries and alerts about any revisions or additions to the style guide.

Citing sources

When working on your research paper, it's important to cite the sources you used properly. Your citation style will guide you through this process. Generally, there are three parts to citing sources in your research paper: 

First, provide a brief citation in the body of your essay. This is also known as a parenthetical or in-text citation. 

Second, include a full citation in the Reference list at the end of your paper. Different types of citations include in-text citations, footnotes, and reference lists. 

In-text citations include the author's surname and the date of the citation. 

Footnotes appear at the bottom of each page of your research paper. They may also be summarized within a reference list at the end of the paper. 

A reference list includes all of the research used within the paper at the end of the document. It should include the author, date, paper title, and publisher listed in the order that aligns with your citation style.

10 research paper writing tips:

Following some best practices is essential to writing a research paper that contributes to your field of study and creates a positive impact.

These tactics will help you structure your argument effectively and ensure your work benefits others:

Clear and precise language:  Ensure your language is unambiguous. Use academic language appropriately, but keep it simple. Also, provide clear takeaways for your audience.

Effective idea separation:  Organize the vast amount of information and sources in your paper with paragraphs and titles. Create easily digestible sections for your readers to navigate through.

Compelling intro:  Craft an engaging introduction that captures your reader's interest. Hook your audience and motivate them to continue reading.

Thorough revision and editing:  Take the time to review and edit your paper comprehensively. Use tools like Grammarly to detect and correct small, overlooked errors.

Thesis precision:  Develop a clear and concise thesis statement that guides your paper. Ensure that your thesis aligns with your research's overall purpose and contribution.

Logical flow of ideas:  Maintain a logical progression throughout the paper. Use transitions effectively to connect different sections and maintain coherence.

Critical evaluation of sources:  Evaluate and critically assess the relevance and reliability of your sources. Ensure that your research is based on credible and up-to-date information.

Thematic consistency:  Maintain a consistent theme throughout the paper. Ensure that all sections contribute cohesively to the overall argument.

Relevant supporting evidence:  Provide concise and relevant evidence to support your arguments. Avoid unnecessary details that may distract from the main points.

Embrace counterarguments:  Acknowledge and address opposing views to strengthen your position. Show that you have considered alternative arguments in your field.

7 research tips 

If you want your paper to not only be well-written but also contribute to the progress of human knowledge, consider these tips to take your paper to the next level:

Selecting the appropriate topic: The topic you select should align with your area of expertise, comply with the requirements of your project, and have sufficient resources for a comprehensive investigation.

Use academic databases: Academic databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and JSTOR offer a wealth of research papers that can help you discover everything you need to know about your chosen topic.

Critically evaluate sources: It is important not to accept research findings at face value. Instead, it is crucial to critically analyze the information to avoid jumping to conclusions or overlooking important details. A well-written research paper requires a critical analysis with thorough reasoning to support claims.

Diversify your sources: Expand your research horizons by exploring a variety of sources beyond the standard databases. Utilize books, conference proceedings, and interviews to gather diverse perspectives and enrich your understanding of the topic.

Take detailed notes: Detailed note-taking is crucial during research and can help you form the outline and body of your paper.

Stay up on trends: Keep abreast of the latest developments in your field by regularly checking for recent publications. Subscribe to newsletters, follow relevant journals, and attend conferences to stay informed about emerging trends and advancements. 

Engage in peer review: Seek feedback from peers or mentors to ensure the rigor and validity of your research. Peer review helps identify potential weaknesses in your methodology and strengthens the overall credibility of your findings.

  • The real-world impact of research papers

Writing a research paper is more than an academic or business exercise. The experience provides an opportunity to explore a subject in-depth, broaden one's understanding, and arrive at meaningful conclusions. With careful planning, dedication, and hard work, writing a research paper can be a fulfilling and enriching experience contributing to advancing knowledge.

How do I publish my research paper? 

Many academics wish to publish their research papers. While challenging, your paper might get traction if it covers new and well-written information. To publish your research paper, find a target publication, thoroughly read their guidelines, format your paper accordingly, and send it to them per their instructions. You may need to include a cover letter, too. After submission, your paper may be peer-reviewed by experts to assess its legitimacy, quality, originality, and methodology. Following review, you will be informed by the publication whether they have accepted or rejected your paper. 

What is a good opening sentence for a research paper? 

Beginning your research paper with a compelling introduction can ensure readers are interested in going further. A relevant quote, a compelling statistic, or a bold argument can start the paper and hook your reader. Remember, though, that the most important aspect of a research paper is the quality of the information––not necessarily your ability to storytell, so ensure anything you write aligns with your goals.

Research paper vs. a research proposal—what’s the difference?

While some may confuse research papers and proposals, they are different documents. 

A research proposal comes before a research paper. It is a detailed document that outlines an intended area of exploration. It includes the research topic, methodology, timeline, sources, and potential conclusions. Research proposals are often required when seeking approval to conduct research. 

A research paper is a summary of research findings. A research paper follows a structured format to present those findings and construct an argument or conclusion.

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How to Write a Research Paper

Last Updated: February 18, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Chris Hadley, PhD . Chris Hadley, PhD is part of the wikiHow team and works on content strategy and data and analytics. Chris Hadley earned his PhD in Cognitive Psychology from UCLA in 2006. Chris' academic research has been published in numerous scientific journals. There are 14 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 4,172,491 times.

Whether you’re in a history, literature, or science class, you’ll probably have to write a research paper at some point. It may seem daunting when you’re just starting out, but staying organized and budgeting your time can make the process a breeze. Research your topic, find reliable sources, and come up with a working thesis. Then create an outline and start drafting your paper. Be sure to leave plenty of time to make revisions, as editing is essential if you want to hand in your best work!

Sample Research Papers and Outlines

guidelines how to write a research paper

Researching Your Topic

Step 1 Focus your research on a narrow topic.

  • For instance, you might start with a general subject, like British decorative arts. Then, as you read, you home in on transferware and pottery. Ultimately, you focus on 1 potter in the 1780s who invented a way to mass-produce patterned tableware.

Tip: If you need to analyze a piece of literature, your task is to pull the work apart into literary elements and explain how the author uses those parts to make their point.

Step 2 Search for credible sources online and at a library.

  • Authoritative, credible sources include scholarly articles (especially those other authors reference), government websites, scientific studies, and reputable news bureaus. Additionally, check your sources' dates, and make sure the information you gather is up to date.
  • Evaluate how other scholars have approached your topic. Identify authoritative sources or works that are accepted as the most important accounts of the subject matter. Additionally, look for debates among scholars, and ask yourself who presents the strongest evidence for their case. [3] X Trustworthy Source Purdue Online Writing Lab Trusted resource for writing and citation guidelines Go to source
  • You’ll most likely need to include a bibliography or works cited page, so keep your sources organized. List your sources, format them according to your assigned style guide (such as MLA or Chicago ), and write 2 or 3 summary sentences below each one. [4] X Research source

Step 3 Come up with a preliminary thesis.

  • Imagine you’re a lawyer in a trial and are presenting a case to a jury. Think of your readers as the jurors; your opening statement is your thesis and you’ll present evidence to the jury to make your case.
  • A thesis should be specific rather than vague, such as: “Josiah Spode’s improved formula for bone china enabled the mass production of transfer-printed wares, which expanded the global market for British pottery.”

Drafting Your Essay

Step 1 Create an outline

  • Your outline is your paper’s skeleton. After making the outline, all you’ll need to do is fill in the details.
  • For easy reference, include your sources where they fit into your outline, like this: III. Spode vs. Wedgewood on Mass Production A. Spode: Perfected chemical formula with aims for fast production and distribution (Travis, 2002, 43) B. Wedgewood: Courted high-priced luxury market; lower emphasis on mass production (Himmelweit, 2001, 71) C. Therefore: Wedgewood, unlike Spode, delayed the expansion of the pottery market.

Step 2 Present your thesis...

  • For instance, your opening line could be, “Overlooked in the present, manufacturers of British pottery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries played crucial roles in England’s Industrial Revolution.”
  • After presenting your thesis, lay out your evidence, like this: “An examination of Spode’s innovative production and distribution techniques will demonstrate the importance of his contributions to the industry and Industrial Revolution at large.”

Tip: Some people prefer to write the introduction first and use it to structure the rest of the paper. However, others like to write the body, then fill in the introduction. Do whichever seems natural to you. If you write the intro first, keep in mind you can tweak it later to reflect your finished paper’s layout.

Step 3 Build your argument in the body paragraphs.

  • After setting the context, you'd include a section on Josiah Spode’s company and what he did to make pottery easier to manufacture and distribute.
  • Next, discuss how targeting middle class consumers increased demand and expanded the pottery industry globally.
  • Then, you could explain how Spode differed from competitors like Wedgewood, who continued to court aristocratic consumers instead of expanding the market to the middle class.
  • The right number of sections or paragraphs depends on your assignment. In general, shoot for 3 to 5, but check your prompt for your assigned length.

Step 4 Address a counterargument to strengthen your case.

  • If you bring up a counterargument, make sure it’s a strong claim that’s worth entertaining instead of ones that's weak and easily dismissed.
  • Suppose, for instance, you’re arguing for the benefits of adding fluoride to toothpaste and city water. You could bring up a study that suggested fluoride produced harmful health effects, then explain how its testing methods were flawed.

Step 5 Summarize your argument...

  • Sum up your argument, but don’t simply rewrite your introduction using slightly different wording. To make your conclusion more memorable, you could also connect your thesis to a broader topic or theme to make it more relatable to your reader.
  • For example, if you’ve discussed the role of nationalism in World War I, you could conclude by mentioning nationalism’s reemergence in contemporary foreign affairs.

Revising Your Paper

Step 1 Ensure your paper...

  • This is also a great opportunity to make sure your paper fulfills the parameters of the assignment and answers the prompt!
  • It’s a good idea to put your essay aside for a few hours (or overnight, if you have time). That way, you can start editing it with fresh eyes.

Tip: Try to give yourself at least 2 or 3 days to revise your paper. It may be tempting to simply give your paper a quick read and use the spell-checker to make edits. However, revising your paper properly is more in-depth.

Step 2 Cut out unnecessary words and other fluff.

  • The passive voice, such as “The door was opened by me,” feels hesitant and wordy. On the other hand, the active voice, or “I opened the door,” feels strong and concise.
  • Each word in your paper should do a specific job. Try to avoid including extra words just to fill up blank space on a page or sound fancy.
  • For instance, “The author uses pathos to appeal to readers’ emotions” is better than “The author utilizes pathos to make an appeal to the emotional core of those who read the passage.”

Step 3 Proofread

  • Read your essay out loud to help ensure you catch every error. As you read, check for flow as well and, if necessary, tweak any spots that sound awkward. [13] X Trustworthy Source University of North Carolina Writing Center UNC's on-campus and online instructional service that provides assistance to students, faculty, and others during the writing process Go to source

Step 4 Ask a friend, relative, or teacher to read your work before you submit it.

  • It’s wise to get feedback from one person who’s familiar with your topic and another who’s not. The person who knows about the topic can help ensure you’ve nailed all the details. The person who’s unfamiliar with the topic can help make sure your writing is clear and easy to understand.

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Get Started With a Research Project

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Remember that your topic and thesis should be as specific as possible. Thanks Helpful 5 Not Helpful 0
  • Researching, outlining, drafting, and revising are all important steps, so do your best to budget your time wisely. Try to avoid waiting until the last minute to write your paper. Thanks Helpful 6 Not Helpful 2

guidelines how to write a research paper

  • ↑ https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/planresearchpaper/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/evaluating-print-sources/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/conducting_research/research_overview/index.html
  • ↑ https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/writing/graduate-writing-lab/writing-through-graduate-school/working-sources
  • ↑ https://opentextbc.ca/writingforsuccess/chapter/chapter-5-putting-the-pieces-together-with-a-thesis-statement/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/developing_an_outline/index.html
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/introductions/
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/writingcenter/writingprocess/counterarguments
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/ending-essay-conclusions
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/
  • ↑ https://academicguides.waldenu.edu/formandstyle/writing/scholarlyvoice/activepassive
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/proofreading/index.html

About This Article

Chris Hadley, PhD

To write a research paper, start by researching your topic at the library, online, or using an academic database. As you conduct your research and take notes, zero in on a specific topic that you want to write about and create a 1-2 sentence thesis to state the focus of your paper. Then, create an outline that includes an introduction, 3 to 5 body paragraphs to present your arguments, and a conclusion to sum up your main points. Once you have your paper's structure organized, draft your paragraphs, focusing on 1 argument per paragraph. Use the information you found through your research to back up your claims and prove your thesis statement. Finally, proofread and revise your content until it's polished and ready to submit. For more information on researching and citing sources, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Research Method

Home » Research Paper Format – Types, Examples and Templates

Research Paper Format – Types, Examples and Templates

Table of Contents

Research Paper Formats

Research paper format is an essential aspect of academic writing that plays a crucial role in the communication of research findings . The format of a research paper depends on various factors such as the discipline, style guide, and purpose of the research. It includes guidelines for the structure, citation style, referencing , and other elements of the paper that contribute to its overall presentation and coherence. Adhering to the appropriate research paper format is vital for ensuring that the research is accurately and effectively communicated to the intended audience. In this era of information, it is essential to understand the different research paper formats and their guidelines to communicate research effectively, accurately, and with the required level of detail. This post aims to provide an overview of some of the common research paper formats used in academic writing.

Research Paper Formats

Research Paper Formats are as follows:

  • APA (American Psychological Association) format
  • MLA (Modern Language Association) format
  • Chicago/Turabian style
  • IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) format
  • AMA (American Medical Association) style
  • Harvard style
  • Vancouver style
  • ACS (American Chemical Society) style
  • ASA (American Sociological Association) style
  • APSA (American Political Science Association) style

APA (American Psychological Association) Format

Here is a general APA format for a research paper:

  • Title Page: The title page should include the title of your paper, your name, and your institutional affiliation. It should also include a running head, which is a shortened version of the title, and a page number in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Abstract : The abstract is a brief summary of your paper, typically 150-250 words. It should include the purpose of your research, the main findings, and any implications or conclusions that can be drawn.
  • Introduction: The introduction should provide background information on your topic, state the purpose of your research, and present your research question or hypothesis. It should also include a brief literature review that discusses previous research on your topic.
  • Methods: The methods section should describe the procedures you used to collect and analyze your data. It should include information on the participants, the materials and instruments used, and the statistical analyses performed.
  • Results: The results section should present the findings of your research in a clear and concise manner. Use tables and figures to help illustrate your results.
  • Discussion : The discussion section should interpret your results and relate them back to your research question or hypothesis. It should also discuss the implications of your findings and any limitations of your study.
  • References : The references section should include a list of all sources cited in your paper. Follow APA formatting guidelines for your citations and references.

Some additional tips for formatting your APA research paper:

  • Use 12-point Times New Roman font throughout the paper.
  • Double-space all text, including the references.
  • Use 1-inch margins on all sides of the page.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches.
  • Use a hanging indent for the references (the first line should be flush with the left margin, and all subsequent lines should be indented).
  • Number all pages, including the title page and references page, in the upper right-hand corner.

APA Research Paper Format Template

APA Research Paper Format Template is as follows:

Title Page:

  • Title of the paper
  • Author’s name
  • Institutional affiliation
  • A brief summary of the main points of the paper, including the research question, methods, findings, and conclusions. The abstract should be no more than 250 words.

Introduction:

  • Background information on the topic of the research paper
  • Research question or hypothesis
  • Significance of the study
  • Overview of the research methods and design
  • Brief summary of the main findings
  • Participants: description of the sample population, including the number of participants and their characteristics (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Materials: description of any materials used in the study (e.g., survey questions, experimental apparatus)
  • Procedure: detailed description of the steps taken to conduct the study
  • Presentation of the findings of the study, including statistical analyses if applicable
  • Tables and figures may be included to illustrate the results

Discussion:

  • Interpretation of the results in light of the research question and hypothesis
  • Implications of the study for the field
  • Limitations of the study
  • Suggestions for future research

References:

  • A list of all sources cited in the paper, in APA format

Formatting guidelines:

  • Double-spaced
  • 12-point font (Times New Roman or Arial)
  • 1-inch margins on all sides
  • Page numbers in the top right corner
  • Headings and subheadings should be used to organize the paper
  • The first line of each paragraph should be indented
  • Quotations of 40 or more words should be set off in a block quote with no quotation marks
  • In-text citations should include the author’s last name and year of publication (e.g., Smith, 2019)

APA Research Paper Format Example

APA Research Paper Format Example is as follows:

The Effects of Social Media on Mental Health

University of XYZ

This study examines the relationship between social media use and mental health among college students. Data was collected through a survey of 500 students at the University of XYZ. Results suggest that social media use is significantly related to symptoms of depression and anxiety, and that the negative effects of social media are greater among frequent users.

Social media has become an increasingly important aspect of modern life, especially among young adults. While social media can have many positive effects, such as connecting people across distances and sharing information, there is growing concern about its impact on mental health. This study aims to examine the relationship between social media use and mental health among college students.

Participants: Participants were 500 college students at the University of XYZ, recruited through online advertisements and flyers posted on campus. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 25, with a mean age of 20.5 years. The sample was 60% female, 40% male, and 5% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming.

Data was collected through an online survey administered through Qualtrics. The survey consisted of several measures, including the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) for depression symptoms, the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) for anxiety symptoms, and questions about social media use.

Procedure :

Participants were asked to complete the online survey at their convenience. The survey took approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. Data was analyzed using descriptive statistics, correlations, and multiple regression analysis.

Results indicated that social media use was significantly related to symptoms of depression (r = .32, p < .001) and anxiety (r = .29, p < .001). Regression analysis indicated that frequency of social media use was a significant predictor of both depression symptoms (β = .24, p < .001) and anxiety symptoms (β = .20, p < .001), even when controlling for age, gender, and other relevant factors.

The results of this study suggest that social media use is associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety among college students. The negative effects of social media are greater among frequent users. These findings have important implications for mental health professionals and educators, who should consider addressing the potential negative effects of social media use in their work with young adults.

References :

References should be listed in alphabetical order according to the author’s last name. For example:

  • Chou, H. T. G., & Edge, N. (2012). “They are happier and having better lives than I am”: The impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 117-121.
  • Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among U.S. adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17.

Note: This is just a sample Example do not use this in your assignment.

MLA (Modern Language Association) Format

MLA (Modern Language Association) Format is as follows:

  • Page Layout : Use 8.5 x 11-inch white paper, with 1-inch margins on all sides. The font should be 12-point Times New Roman or a similar serif font.
  • Heading and Title : The first page of your research paper should include a heading and a title. The heading should include your name, your instructor’s name, the course title, and the date. The title should be centered and in title case (capitalizing the first letter of each important word).
  • In-Text Citations : Use parenthetical citations to indicate the source of your information. The citation should include the author’s last name and the page number(s) of the source. For example: (Smith 23).
  • Works Cited Page : At the end of your paper, include a Works Cited page that lists all the sources you used in your research. Each entry should include the author’s name, the title of the work, the publication information, and the medium of publication.
  • Formatting Quotations : Use double quotation marks for short quotations and block quotations for longer quotations. Indent the entire quotation five spaces from the left margin.
  • Formatting the Body : Use a clear and readable font and double-space your text throughout. The first line of each paragraph should be indented one-half inch from the left margin.

MLA Research Paper Template

MLA Research Paper Format Template is as follows:

  • Use 8.5 x 11 inch white paper.
  • Use a 12-point font, such as Times New Roman.
  • Use double-spacing throughout the entire paper, including the title page and works cited page.
  • Set the margins to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Use page numbers in the upper right corner, beginning with the first page of text.
  • Include a centered title for the research paper, using title case (capitalizing the first letter of each important word).
  • Include your name, instructor’s name, course name, and date in the upper left corner, double-spaced.

In-Text Citations

  • When quoting or paraphrasing information from sources, include an in-text citation within the text of your paper.
  • Use the author’s last name and the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence, before the punctuation mark.
  • If the author’s name is mentioned in the sentence, only include the page number in parentheses.

Works Cited Page

  • List all sources cited in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.
  • Each entry should include the author’s name, title of the work, publication information, and medium of publication.
  • Use italics for book and journal titles, and quotation marks for article and chapter titles.
  • For online sources, include the date of access and the URL.

Here is an example of how the first page of a research paper in MLA format should look:

Headings and Subheadings

  • Use headings and subheadings to organize your paper and make it easier to read.
  • Use numerals to number your headings and subheadings (e.g. 1, 2, 3), and capitalize the first letter of each word.
  • The main heading should be centered and in boldface type, while subheadings should be left-aligned and in italics.
  • Use only one space after each period or punctuation mark.
  • Use quotation marks to indicate direct quotes from a source.
  • If the quote is more than four lines, format it as a block quote, indented one inch from the left margin and without quotation marks.
  • Use ellipses (…) to indicate omitted words from a quote, and brackets ([…]) to indicate added words.

Works Cited Examples

  • Book: Last Name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Publication Year.
  • Journal Article: Last Name, First Name. “Title of Article.” Title of Journal, volume number, issue number, publication date, page numbers.
  • Website: Last Name, First Name. “Title of Webpage.” Title of Website, publication date, URL. Accessed date.

Here is an example of how a works cited entry for a book should look:

Smith, John. The Art of Writing Research Papers. Penguin, 2021.

MLA Research Paper Example

MLA Research Paper Format Example is as follows:

Your Professor’s Name

Course Name and Number

Date (in Day Month Year format)

Word Count (not including title page or Works Cited)

Title: The Impact of Video Games on Aggression Levels

Video games have become a popular form of entertainment among people of all ages. However, the impact of video games on aggression levels has been a subject of debate among scholars and researchers. While some argue that video games promote aggression and violent behavior, others argue that there is no clear link between video games and aggression levels. This research paper aims to explore the impact of video games on aggression levels among young adults.

Background:

The debate on the impact of video games on aggression levels has been ongoing for several years. According to the American Psychological Association, exposure to violent media, including video games, can increase aggression levels in children and adolescents. However, some researchers argue that there is no clear evidence to support this claim. Several studies have been conducted to examine the impact of video games on aggression levels, but the results have been mixed.

Methodology:

This research paper used a quantitative research approach to examine the impact of video games on aggression levels among young adults. A sample of 100 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 was selected for the study. The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that measured their aggression levels and their video game habits.

The results of the study showed that there was a significant correlation between video game habits and aggression levels among young adults. The participants who reported playing violent video games for more than 5 hours per week had higher aggression levels than those who played less than 5 hours per week. The study also found that male participants were more likely to play violent video games and had higher aggression levels than female participants.

The findings of this study support the claim that video games can increase aggression levels among young adults. However, it is important to note that the study only examined the impact of video games on aggression levels and did not take into account other factors that may contribute to aggressive behavior. It is also important to note that not all video games promote violence and aggression, and some games may have a positive impact on cognitive and social skills.

Conclusion :

In conclusion, this research paper provides evidence to support the claim that video games can increase aggression levels among young adults. However, it is important to conduct further research to examine the impact of video games on other aspects of behavior and to explore the potential benefits of video games. Parents and educators should be aware of the potential impact of video games on aggression levels and should encourage young adults to engage in a variety of activities that promote cognitive and social skills.

Works Cited:

  • American Psychological Association. (2017). Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/violent-video-games
  • Ferguson, C. J. (2015). Do Angry Birds make for angry children? A meta-analysis of video game influences on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental health, prosocial behavior, and academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(5), 646-666.
  • Gentile, D. A., Swing, E. L., Lim, C. G., & Khoo, A. (2012). Video game playing, attention problems, and impulsiveness: Evidence of bidirectional causality. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(1), 62-70.
  • Greitemeyer, T. (2014). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(4), 530-548.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Chicago/Turabian Formate is as follows:

  • Margins : Use 1-inch margins on all sides of the paper.
  • Font : Use a readable font such as Times New Roman or Arial, and use a 12-point font size.
  • Page numbering : Number all pages in the upper right-hand corner, beginning with the first page of text. Use Arabic numerals.
  • Title page: Include a title page with the title of the paper, your name, course title and number, instructor’s name, and the date. The title should be centered on the page and in title case (capitalize the first letter of each word).
  • Headings: Use headings to organize your paper. The first level of headings should be centered and in boldface or italics. The second level of headings should be left-aligned and in boldface or italics. Use as many levels of headings as necessary to organize your paper.
  • In-text citations : Use footnotes or endnotes to cite sources within the text of your paper. The first citation for each source should be a full citation, and subsequent citations can be shortened. Use superscript numbers to indicate footnotes or endnotes.
  • Bibliography : Include a bibliography at the end of your paper, listing all sources cited in your paper. The bibliography should be in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, and each entry should include the author’s name, title of the work, publication information, and date of publication.
  • Formatting of quotations: Use block quotations for quotations that are longer than four lines. Indent the entire quotation one inch from the left margin, and do not use quotation marks. Single-space the quotation, and double-space between paragraphs.
  • Tables and figures: Use tables and figures to present data and illustrations. Number each table and figure sequentially, and provide a brief title for each. Place tables and figures as close as possible to the text that refers to them.
  • Spelling and grammar : Use correct spelling and grammar throughout your paper. Proofread carefully for errors.

Chicago/Turabian Research Paper Template

Chicago/Turabian Research Paper Template is as folows:

Title of Paper

Name of Student

Professor’s Name

I. Introduction

A. Background Information

B. Research Question

C. Thesis Statement

II. Literature Review

A. Overview of Existing Literature

B. Analysis of Key Literature

C. Identification of Gaps in Literature

III. Methodology

A. Research Design

B. Data Collection

C. Data Analysis

IV. Results

A. Presentation of Findings

B. Analysis of Findings

C. Discussion of Implications

V. Conclusion

A. Summary of Findings

B. Implications for Future Research

C. Conclusion

VI. References

A. Bibliography

B. In-Text Citations

VII. Appendices (if necessary)

A. Data Tables

C. Additional Supporting Materials

Chicago/Turabian Research Paper Example

Title: The Impact of Social Media on Political Engagement

Name: John Smith

Class: POLS 101

Professor: Dr. Jane Doe

Date: April 8, 2023

I. Introduction:

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. People use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with friends and family, share their opinions, and stay informed about current events. With the rise of social media, there has been a growing interest in understanding its impact on various aspects of society, including political engagement. In this paper, I will examine the relationship between social media use and political engagement, specifically focusing on how social media influences political participation and political attitudes.

II. Literature Review:

There is a growing body of literature on the impact of social media on political engagement. Some scholars argue that social media has a positive effect on political participation by providing new channels for political communication and mobilization (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1996; Putnam, 2000). Others, however, suggest that social media can have a negative impact on political engagement by creating filter bubbles that reinforce existing beliefs and discourage political dialogue (Pariser, 2011; Sunstein, 2001).

III. Methodology:

To examine the relationship between social media use and political engagement, I conducted a survey of 500 college students. The survey included questions about social media use, political participation, and political attitudes. The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

Iv. Results:

The results of the survey indicate that social media use is positively associated with political participation. Specifically, respondents who reported using social media to discuss politics were more likely to have participated in a political campaign, attended a political rally, or contacted a political representative. Additionally, social media use was found to be associated with more positive attitudes towards political engagement, such as increased trust in government and belief in the effectiveness of political action.

V. Conclusion:

The findings of this study suggest that social media has a positive impact on political engagement, by providing new opportunities for political communication and mobilization. However, there is also a need for caution, as social media can also create filter bubbles that reinforce existing beliefs and discourage political dialogue. Future research should continue to explore the complex relationship between social media and political engagement, and develop strategies to harness the potential benefits of social media while mitigating its potential negative effects.

Vii. References:

  • Delli Carpini, M. X., & Keeter, S. (1996). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. Yale University Press.
  • Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. Penguin.
  • Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. Simon & Schuster.
  • Sunstein, C. R. (2001). Republic.com. Princeton University Press.

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Format

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Research Paper Format is as follows:

  • Title : A concise and informative title that accurately reflects the content of the paper.
  • Abstract : A brief summary of the paper, typically no more than 250 words, that includes the purpose of the study, the methods used, the key findings, and the main conclusions.
  • Introduction : An overview of the background, context, and motivation for the research, including a clear statement of the problem being addressed and the objectives of the study.
  • Literature review: A critical analysis of the relevant research and scholarship on the topic, including a discussion of any gaps or limitations in the existing literature.
  • Methodology : A detailed description of the methods used to collect and analyze data, including any experiments or simulations, data collection instruments or procedures, and statistical analyses.
  • Results : A clear and concise presentation of the findings, including any relevant tables, graphs, or figures.
  • Discussion : A detailed interpretation of the results, including a comparison of the findings with previous research, a discussion of the implications of the results, and any recommendations for future research.
  • Conclusion : A summary of the key findings and main conclusions of the study.
  • References : A list of all sources cited in the paper, formatted according to IEEE guidelines.

In addition to these elements, an IEEE research paper should also follow certain formatting guidelines, including using 12-point font, double-spaced text, and numbered headings and subheadings. Additionally, any tables, figures, or equations should be clearly labeled and referenced in the text.

AMA (American Medical Association) Style

AMA (American Medical Association) Style Research Paper Format:

  • Title Page: This page includes the title of the paper, the author’s name, institutional affiliation, and any acknowledgments or disclaimers.
  • Abstract: The abstract is a brief summary of the paper that outlines the purpose, methods, results, and conclusions of the study. It is typically limited to 250 words or less.
  • Introduction: The introduction provides a background of the research problem, defines the research question, and outlines the objectives and hypotheses of the study.
  • Methods: The methods section describes the research design, participants, procedures, and instruments used to collect and analyze data.
  • Results: The results section presents the findings of the study in a clear and concise manner, using graphs, tables, and charts where appropriate.
  • Discussion: The discussion section interprets the results, explains their significance, and relates them to previous research in the field.
  • Conclusion: The conclusion summarizes the main points of the paper, discusses the implications of the findings, and suggests future research directions.
  • References: The reference list includes all sources cited in the paper, listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name.

In addition to these sections, the AMA format requires that authors follow specific guidelines for citing sources in the text and formatting their references. The AMA style uses a superscript number system for in-text citations and provides specific formats for different types of sources, such as books, journal articles, and websites.

Harvard Style

Harvard Style Research Paper format is as follows:

  • Title page: This should include the title of your paper, your name, the name of your institution, and the date of submission.
  • Abstract : This is a brief summary of your paper, usually no more than 250 words. It should outline the main points of your research and highlight your findings.
  • Introduction : This section should introduce your research topic, provide background information, and outline your research question or thesis statement.
  • Literature review: This section should review the relevant literature on your topic, including previous research studies, academic articles, and other sources.
  • Methodology : This section should describe the methods you used to conduct your research, including any data collection methods, research instruments, and sampling techniques.
  • Results : This section should present your findings in a clear and concise manner, using tables, graphs, and other visual aids if necessary.
  • Discussion : This section should interpret your findings and relate them to the broader research question or thesis statement. You should also discuss the implications of your research and suggest areas for future study.
  • Conclusion : This section should summarize your main findings and provide a final statement on the significance of your research.
  • References : This is a list of all the sources you cited in your paper, presented in alphabetical order by author name. Each citation should include the author’s name, the title of the source, the publication date, and other relevant information.

In addition to these sections, a Harvard Style research paper may also include a table of contents, appendices, and other supplementary materials as needed. It is important to follow the specific formatting guidelines provided by your instructor or academic institution when preparing your research paper in Harvard Style.

Vancouver Style

Vancouver Style Research Paper format is as follows:

The Vancouver citation style is commonly used in the biomedical sciences and is known for its use of numbered references. Here is a basic format for a research paper using the Vancouver citation style:

  • Title page: Include the title of your paper, your name, the name of your institution, and the date.
  • Abstract : This is a brief summary of your research paper, usually no more than 250 words.
  • Introduction : Provide some background information on your topic and state the purpose of your research.
  • Methods : Describe the methods you used to conduct your research, including the study design, data collection, and statistical analysis.
  • Results : Present your findings in a clear and concise manner, using tables and figures as needed.
  • Discussion : Interpret your results and explain their significance. Also, discuss any limitations of your study and suggest directions for future research.
  • References : List all of the sources you cited in your paper in numerical order. Each reference should include the author’s name, the title of the article or book, the name of the journal or publisher, the year of publication, and the page numbers.

ACS (American Chemical Society) Style

ACS (American Chemical Society) Style Research Paper format is as follows:

The American Chemical Society (ACS) Style is a citation style commonly used in chemistry and related fields. When formatting a research paper in ACS Style, here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Paper Size and Margins : Use standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper with 1-inch margins on all sides.
  • Font: Use a 12-point serif font (such as Times New Roman) for the main text. The title should be in bold and a larger font size.
  • Title Page : The title page should include the title of the paper, the authors’ names and affiliations, and the date of submission. The title should be centered on the page and written in bold font. The authors’ names should be centered below the title, followed by their affiliations and the date.
  • Abstract : The abstract should be a brief summary of the paper, no more than 250 words. It should be on a separate page and include the title of the paper, the authors’ names and affiliations, and the text of the abstract.
  • Main Text : The main text should be organized into sections with headings that clearly indicate the content of each section. The introduction should provide background information and state the research question or hypothesis. The methods section should describe the procedures used in the study. The results section should present the findings of the study, and the discussion section should interpret the results and provide conclusions.
  • References: Use the ACS Style guide to format the references cited in the paper. In-text citations should be numbered sequentially throughout the text and listed in numerical order at the end of the paper.
  • Figures and Tables: Figures and tables should be numbered sequentially and referenced in the text. Each should have a descriptive caption that explains its content. Figures should be submitted in a high-quality electronic format.
  • Supporting Information: Additional information such as data, graphs, and videos may be included as supporting information. This should be included in a separate file and referenced in the main text.
  • Acknowledgments : Acknowledge any funding sources or individuals who contributed to the research.

ASA (American Sociological Association) Style

ASA (American Sociological Association) Style Research Paper format is as follows:

  • Title Page: The title page of an ASA style research paper should include the title of the paper, the author’s name, and the institutional affiliation. The title should be centered and should be in title case (the first letter of each major word should be capitalized).
  • Abstract: An abstract is a brief summary of the paper that should appear on a separate page immediately following the title page. The abstract should be no more than 200 words in length and should summarize the main points of the paper.
  • Main Body: The main body of the paper should begin on a new page following the abstract page. The paper should be double-spaced, with 1-inch margins on all sides, and should be written in 12-point Times New Roman font. The main body of the paper should include an introduction, a literature review, a methodology section, results, and a discussion.
  • References : The reference section should appear on a separate page at the end of the paper. All sources cited in the paper should be listed in alphabetical order by the author’s last name. Each reference should include the author’s name, the title of the work, the publication information, and the date of publication.
  • Appendices : Appendices are optional and should only be included if they contain information that is relevant to the study but too lengthy to be included in the main body of the paper. If you include appendices, each one should be labeled with a letter (e.g., Appendix A, Appendix B, etc.) and should be referenced in the main body of the paper.

APSA (American Political Science Association) Style

APSA (American Political Science Association) Style Research Paper format is as follows:

  • Title Page: The title page should include the title of the paper, the author’s name, the name of the course or instructor, and the date.
  • Abstract : An abstract is typically not required in APSA style papers, but if one is included, it should be brief and summarize the main points of the paper.
  • Introduction : The introduction should provide an overview of the research topic, the research question, and the main argument or thesis of the paper.
  • Literature Review : The literature review should summarize the existing research on the topic and provide a context for the research question.
  • Methods : The methods section should describe the research methods used in the paper, including data collection and analysis.
  • Results : The results section should present the findings of the research.
  • Discussion : The discussion section should interpret the results and connect them back to the research question and argument.
  • Conclusion : The conclusion should summarize the main findings and implications of the research.
  • References : The reference list should include all sources cited in the paper, formatted according to APSA style guidelines.

In-text citations in APSA style use parenthetical citation, which includes the author’s last name, publication year, and page number(s) if applicable. For example, (Smith 2010, 25).

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How to Write a Scientific Paper: Practical Guidelines

Edgard delvin.

1 Centre de recherche, CHU Sainte-Justine

2 Département de Biochimie, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Canada

Tahir S. Pillay

3 Department of Chemical Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria

4 Division of Chemical Pathology, University of Cape Town

5 National Health Laboratory Service, CTshwane Academic Division, Pretoria, South Africa

Anthony Newman

6 Life Sciences Department, Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Precise, accurate and clear writing is essential for communicating in health sciences, as publication is an important component in the university criteria for academic promotion and in obtaining funding to support research. In spite of this, the development of writing skills is a subject infrequently included in the curricula of faculties of medicine and allied health sciences. Therefore clinical investigators require tools to fill this gap. The present paper presents a brief historical background to medical publication and practical guidelines for writing scientific papers for acceptance in good journals.

INTRODUCTION

A scientific paper is the formal lasting record of a research process. It is meant to document research protocols, methods, results and conclusions derived from an initial working hypothesis. The first medical accounts date back to antiquity. Imhotep, Pharaoh of the 3 rd Dynasty, could be considered the founder of ancient Egyptian medicine as he has been credited with being the original author of what is now known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus ( Figure 1 ). The Papyrus, by giving some details on cures and anatomical observations, sets the basis of the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous diseases. Closer to the Common Era, in 460 BCE, Hippocrates wrote 70 books on medicine. In 1020, the Golden age of the Muslim Culture, Ibn Sina, known as Avicenna ( Figure 2a ), recorded the Canon of medicine that was to become the most used medical text in Europe and Middle East for almost half a millennium. This was followed in the beginning of the 12 th Century bytheextensivetreatiseofMaimonides( Figure 2b ) (Moses ben Maimon) on Greek and Middle Eastern medicine. Of interest, by the end of the 11 th Century Trotula di Ruggiero, a woman physician, wrote several influential books on women’s ailment. A number of other hallmark treatises also became more accessible, thanks to the introduction of the printing press that allowed standardization of the texts. One example is the De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius which contains hundreds of illustrations of human dissection. Thomas A Lang provides an excellent concise history of scientific publications [ 1 ]. These were the days when writing and publishing scientific or philosophical works were the privilege of the few and hence there was no or little competition and no recorded peer reviewing system. Times have however changed, and contemporary scientists have to compose with an increasingly harsh competition in attracting editors and publishers attention. As an example, the number of reports and reviews on obesity and diabetes has increased from 400 to close to 4000/year and 50 to 600/year respectively over a period of 20 years ( Figure 3 ). The present article, essentially based on TA Lang’s guide for writing a scientific paper [ 1 ], will summarize the steps involved in the process of writing a scientific report and in increasing the likelihood of its acceptance.

This manuscript, written in 1600 BCE, is regarded as a copy of several earlier works ( 3000 BCE). It is part of a textbook on surgery the examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of numerous ailments. BCE: Before the Common Era.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus (≈3000 BCE)

Figure 2a Avicenna 973-1037 C.E.Figure 2b Maimonides, 1135-1204 C.E.

Avicenna and Maimonides

Orange columns: original research papers; Green columns: reviews

Annual publication load in the field of obesity and diabetes over 20 years.

Reasons for publishing are varied. One may write to achieve a post-graduate degree, to obtain funding for pursuing research or for academic promotion. While all 3 reasons are perfectly legitimate, one must ask whether they are sufficient to be considered by editors, publishers and reviewers. Why then should the scientist write? The main reason is to provide to the scientific community data based on hypotheses that are innovative and thus to advance the understanding in a specific domain. One word of caution however, is that if a set of experiments has not been done or reported, it does not mean that it should be. It may simply reflect a lack of interest in it.

DECIDING ON PUBLISHING AND TARGETING THE JOURNAL

In order to assist with the decision process, pres-ent your work orally first to colleagues in your field who may be more experienced in publishing. This step will help you in gauging whether your work is publishable and in shaping the paper.

Targeting the journal, in which you want to present your data, is also a critical step and should be done before starting to write. One hint is to look for journals that have published similar work to yours, and that aims readers most likely to be interested in your research. This will allow your article to be well read and cited. These journals are also those that you are most likely to read on a regular basis and to cite abundantly. The next step is to decide whether you submit your manuscript to a top-ranking impact factor journal or to a journal of lower prestige. Although it is tempting to test the waters, or to obtain reviewers comments, be realistic about the contribution your work provides and submit to a journal with an appropriate rank.

Do not forget that each rejection delays publication and that the basin of reviewers within your specialty is shallow. Thus repeated submission to different journals could likely result in having your work submitted for review to the same re-viewer.

DECIDING ON THE TYPE OF MANUSCRIPT

There are several types of scientific reports: observational, experimental, methodological, theoretical and review. Observational studies include 1) single-case report, 2) collective case reports on a series of patients having for example common signs and symptoms or being followed-up with similar protocols, 3) cross-sectional, 4) cohort studies, and 5) case-control studies. The latter 3 could be perceived as epidemiological studies as they may help establishing the prevalence of a condition, and identify a defined population with and without a particular condition (disease, injury, surgical complication). Experimental reports deal with research that tests a research hypothesis through an established protocol, and, in the case of health sciences, formulate plausible explanations for changes in biological systems. Methodological reports address for example advances in analytical technology, statistical methods and diagnostic approach. Theoretical reports suggest new working hypotheses and principles that have to be supported or disproved through experimental protocols. The review category can be sub-classified as narrative, systematic and meta-analytic. Narrative reviews are often broad overviews that could be biased as they are based on the personal experience of an expert relying on articles of his or her own choice. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are based on reproducible procedures and on high quality data. Researchers systematically identify and analyze all data collected in articles that test the same working hypothesis, avoiding selection bias, and report the data in a systematic fashion. They are particularly helpful in asking important questions in the field of healthcare and are often the initial step for innovative research. Rules or guidelines in writing such report must be followed if a quality systematic review is to be published.

For clinical research trials and systematic reviews or meta-analyses, use the Consort Statement (Consolidated Standards Of Reporting Trials) and the PRISMA Statement (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses) respectively [ 2 , 3 ]. This assures the editors and the reviewers that essential elements of the trials and of the reviews were tackled. It also speeds the peer review process. There are several other Statements that apply to epidemiological studies [ 4 ], non-randomized clinical trials [ 5 ], diagnostic test development ( 6 ) and genetic association studies ( 7 ). The Consortium of Laboratory Medicine Journal Editors has also published guidelines for reporting industry-sponsored laboratory research ( 8 ).

INITIAL STEPS IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING A SCIENTIFIC DOCUMENT

Literature review is the initial and essential step before starting your study and writing the scientific report based on it. In this process use multiple databases, multiple keyword combinations. It will allow you to track the latest development in your field and thus avoid you to find out that someone else has performed the study before you, and hence decrease the originality of your study. Do not forget that high-ranking research journals publish results of enough importance and interest to merit their publication.

Determining the authorship and the order of authorship, an ethical issue, is the second essential step, and is unfortunately often neglected. This step may avoid later conflicts as, despite existing guidelines, it remains a sensitive issue owing to personal biases and the internal politics of institutions. The International Committee of Medical Editors has adopted the following guidelines for the biomedical sciences ( 9 ).

“Authorship credit should be based only on: 1) Substantial contributions to the conception and design, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) Drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) Final approval of the version to be published. Conditions 1, 2 and 3 must be all met. Acquisition of funding, the collections of data, or general supervision of the research group, by themselves, do not justify authorship.” ( 9 , 10 )

The order of authorship should reflect the individual contribution to the research and to the publication, from most to least ( 11 ). The first author usually carries out the lead for the project reported. However the last author is often mistakenly perceived as the senior author. This is perpetuated from the European tradition and is discouraged. As there are divergent conventions among journals, the order of authorship order may or may not reflect the individual contributions; with the exception that the first author should be the one most responsible for the work.

WRITING EFFECTIVELY

Effective writing requires that the text helps the readers 1) understand the content and the context, 2) remember what the salient points are, 3) find the information rapidly and, 4) use or apply the information given. These cardinal qualities should be adorned with the precise usage of the language, clarity of the text, inclu-siveness of the information, and conciseness. Effective writing also means that you have to focus on the potential readers’ needs. Readers in science are informed individuals who are not passive, and who will formulate their own opinion of your writing whether or not the meaning is clear. Therefore you need to know who your audience is. The following 4 questions should help you writing a reader-based text, meaning written to meet the information needs of readers [ 12 ].

What do you assume your readers already know? In other words, which terms and concepts can you use without explanation, and which do you have to define?

What do they want to know? Readers in science will read only if they think they will learn something of value.

What do they need to know? Your text must contain all the information necessary for the reader to understand it, even if you think this information id obvious to them.

What do they think they know that is not so? Correcting misconceptions can be an important function of communication, and persuading readers to change their minds can be a challenging task.

WRITING THE SCIENTIFIC PAPER

Babbs and Tacker ’ s advice to write as much of the paper before performing the research project or experimental protocol may, at first sight, seem unexpected and counterintuitive [ 13 ], but in fact it is exactly what is being done when writing a research grant application. It will allow you to define the authorship alluded to before. The following section will briefly review the structure of the different sections of a manuscript and describe their purpose.

Reading the instructions to authors of the Journal you have decided to submit your manuscript is the first important step. They provide you with the specific requirements such as the way of listing the authors, type of abstract, word, figure or table limits and citation style. The Mulford Library of University of Toledo website contains instructions to authors for over 3000 journals ( http://mulford.meduoiho.edu/instr/ ).

The general organization of an article follows the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion). These may however vary. For instance, in clinical research or epidemiology studies, the methods section will include details on the subjects included, and there will be a statement of the limitation of the study. Although conclusions may not always be part of the structure, we believe that it should, even in methodological reports.

The tile page provides essential information so that the editor, reviewers, and readers will identify the manuscript and the authors at a glance as well as enabling them to classify the field to which the article pertains.

The title page must contain the following:

  • The tile of the article – it is an important part of the manuscript as it is the most often read and will induce the interested readers to pursue further. Therefore the title should be precise, accurate, specific and truthful;
  • Each author’s given name (it may be the full name or initials) and family name;
  • Each author’s affiliation;
  • Some journals ask for highest academic degree;
  • A running title that is usually limited to a number of characters. It must relate to the full title;
  • Key words that will serve for indexing;
  • For clinical studies, the trial’s registration number;
  • The name of the corresponding author with full contact information.

The abstract is also an important section of your manuscript. Importantly, the abstract is the part of the article that your peers will see when consulting publication databases such as PubMed. It is the advertisement to your work and will strongly influence the editor deciding whether it will be submitted to reviewers or not. It will also help the readers decide to read the full article. Hence it has to be comprehensible on its own. Writing an abstract is challenging. You have to carefully select the content and, while being concise, assure to deliver the essence of your manuscript.

Without going into details, there are 3 types of abstracts: descriptive, informative and structured. The descriptive abstract is particularly used for theoretical, methodological or review articles. It usually consists of a single paragraph of 150 words or less. The informative abstract, the most common one, contains specific information given in the article and, are organized with an introduction (background, objectives), methods, results and discussion with or without conclusion. They usually are 150 to 250 words in length. The structured abstract is in essence an informative abstract with sections labeled with headings. They may also be longer and are limited to 250 to 300 words. Recent technology also allows for graphical or even video abstracts. The latter are interesting in the context of cell biology as they enable the investigator to illustrate ex vivo experiment results (phagocytosis process for example).

Qualities of abstracts:

  • Understood without reading the full paper. Shoul dcontain no abbreviations.lf abbreviations are used, they must be defined. This however removes space for more important information;
  • Contains information consistent with the full report. Conclusions in the abstract must match those given in the full report;
  • Is attractive and contains information needed to decide whether to read the full report.

Introduction

The introduction has 3 main goals: to establish the need and importance of your research, to indicate how you have filled the knowledge gap in your field and to give your readers a hint of what they will learn when reading your paper. To fulfil these goals, a four-part introduction consisting of a background statement, a problem statement, an activity statement and a forecasting statement, is best suited. Poorly defined background information and problem setting are the 2 most common weaknesses encountered in introductions. They stem from the false perception that peer readers know what the issue is and why the study to solve it is necessary. Although not a strict rule, the introduction in clinical science journals should target only references needed to establish the rationale for the study and the research protocol. This differ from more basic science or cell biology journals, for which a longer and elaborate introduction may be justified because the research at hand consists of several approaches each requiring background and justification.

The 4-part introduction consists of:

  • A background statement that provides the context and the approach of the research;
  • A problem statement that describes the nature, scope and importance of the problem or the knowledge gap;
  • An activity statement, that details the research question, sets the hypothesis and actions undertaken for the investigation;
  • A forecasting statement telling the readers whattheywillfìndwhen readingyourarticle [ 14 ].

Methods section

This section may be named “Materials and Methods”, “Experimental section” or “Patients and Methods” depending upon the type of journal. Its purpose to allow your readers to provide enough information on the methods used for your research and to judge on their adequacy. Although clinical and “basic” research protocols differ, the principles involved in describing the methods share similar features. Hence, the breadth of what is being studied and how the study can be performed is common to both. What differ are the specific settings. For example, when a study is conducted on humans, you must provide, up front, assurance that it has received the approval of you Institution Ethics Review Board (IRB) and that participants have provided full and informed consent. Similarly when the study involves animals, you must affirm that you have the agreement from your Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). These are too often forgotten, and Journals (most of them) abiding to the rules of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) will require such statement. Although journals publishing research reports in more fundamental science may not require such assurance, they do however also follow to strict ethics rules related to scientific misconduct or fraud such as data fabrication, data falsification. For clinical research papers, you have to provide information on how the participants were selected, identify the possible sources of bias and confounding factors and how they were diminished.

In terms of the measurements, you have to clearly identify the materials used as well as the suppliers with their location. You should also be unambiguous when describing the analytical method. If the method has already been published, give a brief account and refer to the original publication (not a review in which the method is mentioned without a description). If you have modified it, you have to provide a detailed account of the modifications and you have to validate its accuracy, precision and repeatability. Mention the units in which results are reported and, if necessary, include the conversion factors [mass units versus “système international” (S.I.)]. In clinical research, surrogate end-points are often used as biomarkers. Under those circumstances, you must show their validity or refer to a study that has already shown that are valid.

In cases of clinical trials, the Methods section should include the study design, the patient selection mode, interventions, type of outcomes.

Statistics are important in assuring the quality of the research project. Hence, you should consult a biostatistician at the time of devising the research protocol and not after having performed the experiments or the clinical trial.

The components of the section on statistics should include:

  • The way the data will be reported (mean, median, centiles for continuous data);
  • Details on participant assignments to the different groups (random allocation, consecutive entry);
  • Statistical comparison tools (parametric or non parametric statistics, paired or unpaired t-tests for normally distributed data and so on);
  • The statistical power calculation when determining the sample size to obtain valid and significant comparisons together with the a level;
  • The statistical software package used in the analysis.

Results section

The main purpose of the results section is to report the data that were collected and their relationship. It should also provide information on the modifications that have taken place because of unforeseen events leading to a modification of the initial protocol (loss of participants, reagent substitution, loss of data).

  • Report results as tables and figures whenever possible, avoid duplication in the text. The text should summarize the findings;
  • Report the data with the appropriate descriptive statistics;
  • Report any unanticipated events that could affect the results;
  • Report a complete account of observations and explanations for missing data (patient lost).

The discussion should set your research in context, reinforce its importance and show how your results have contributed to the further understanding of the problem posed. This should appear in the concluding remarks. The following organization could be helpful.

  • Briefly summarize the main results of your study in one or two paragraphs, and how they support your working hypothesis;
  • Provide an interpretation of your results and show how they logically fit in an overall scheme (biological or clinical);
  • Describe how your results compare with those of other investigators, explain the differences observed;
  • Discuss how your results may lead to a new hypothesis and further experimentation, or how they could enhance the diagnostic procedures.
  • Provide the limitations of your study and steps taken to reduce them. This could be placed in the concluding remarks.

Acknowledgements

The acknowledgements are important as they identify and thank the contributors to the study, who do not meet the criteria as co-authors. They also include the recognition of the granting agency. In this case the grant award number and source is usually included.

Declaration of competing interests

Competing interests arise when the author has more than one role that may lead to a situation where there is a conflict of interest. This is observed when the investigator has a simultaneous industrial consulting and academic position. In that case the results may not be agreeable to the industrial sponsor, who may impose a veto on publication or strongly suggest modifications to the conclusions. The investigator must clear this issue before starting the contracted research. In addition, the investigator may own shares or stock in the company whose product forms the basis of the study. Such conflicts of interest must be declared so that they are apparent to the readers.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank Thomas A Lang, for his advice in the preparation of this manuscript.

Do You Overlook These Key Elements When Writing a Research Manuscript?

How to write a research manuscript by avoiding errors

As with any other skill, academic writing can be improved through practice and experience. Writing publishable research manuscripts does not come naturally to most scientific researchers, even those with a great deal of experience. However, because publication is so important to the success of research studies, and thus researchers, writing is often a skill that needs to be strengthened. The good news is information on how to write a manuscript for publication is widely available for those who want to improve their writing skills. We’ll go a step further and shortlist some key elements that often get overlooked when writing research manuscripts.

Introduction issues

As implied by the section name, the Introduction provides the reader with information basic to understanding the study. The problem being addressed is described, a research gap in the existing literature is identified, and the aims of the study are stated. When writing a manuscript for publication, you should leave this section until last. Oftentimes the study you intended to write is not exactly the study you end up with, and it is important that this section is clearly aligned with your actual results.

Another common issue with the Introduction that may negatively affect a research manuscript’s publication is the lack of a clear statement of purpose 1 . The reader, or journal editor, does not want to search for the meaning of the study. Therefore, make sure that your aim is explicitly stated near the end of the Introduction.

Your Introduction may also be judged by what should not be in it. Do not include data or conclusions in your Introduction. In addition, opinions or value judgements do not belong in the Introduction, or in any part of your research manuscript. Consider asking a colleague or friend to read it, as it is sometimes difficult to see this in your own writing.

Effective use of tables and figures

Visual elements such as tables and figures can add a lot of value to a research study manuscript, but their usefulness is often overlooked. Tables and figures, if used effectively, clarify points you make in the text and increase its clarity and overall reader engagement.

What does the effective use of tables and figures mean? It means the visuals are simple and understandable on their own. The title, along with any footnotes, captions, and comments, are enough of an explanation for the reader 1 . Try taking the table or figure out of the manuscript and looking at it alone. Better yet, show it to a few colleagues. Can they understand what the figure or table shows without any explanation from you? If not, simplify and clarify. Ideally, tables and figures should complement your text and break it up to increase readability. You can make your manuscript more publishable by putting some thought and effort into the visuals that you use.

guidelines how to write a research paper

Discussion errors

The Discussion section is also fraught with improvement opportunities for research writers. For research manuscript writers, a weak discussion section is a common cause of publication failure 2 . What makes a weak discussion? Sometimes it comes from not understanding the difference between speculation and evidence-based conclusions 2 . Everything you present must be based on evidence. If you’re going to speculate or assume, make that clear in your writing. Furthermore, your conclusions should be situated in the context of the existing literature and your results analyzed based on the results of previous studies. Do not overstate the meaning of your results 1 .

In addition, authors often miss a few elements in their Discussion section that should be included, such as study limitations and a global context or meaning for the results. How do the results of your study and what you learned affect the discipline? How can they be useful to practitioners or other researchers? In addition, to tie the study together, the aim that was stated in the Introduction needs to be explicitly addressed. Don’t hide anything from the reader.

Overall writing quality

Finally, the best thing you can do to improve your research manuscript is to make it easy for your reader to understand. Consider clarity to be your main goal when writing. If you can clearly convey to your readers what you did and what the research results were, you show that you understand the topic and this helps build trust. If someone can’t follow your thinking because the manuscript is poorly written or too wordy, your study will ultimately lack impact. Always keep the reader in mind and make your study simple to understand.

One good way to check the writing quality is to read the paper aloud to yourself and listen to the words. When you read the same sentences repeatedly, you may tend to read what you intended to write, not what you actually wrote. Another good suggestion is to get a colleague or friend to read the paper and provide feedback.

  • Liumbruno GM, Velati C, Pasqualetti P, Franchini M. How to write a scientific manuscript for publication. Blood Transfus . 2013, 11:217-26. doi: 10.2450/2012.0247-12
  • Gewin V. How to write a first class paper. Nature . 2018, 555:129-30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-02404-4

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  • 3 Easy Ways for Researchers to Improve Their Academic Vocabulary
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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility

 Statistics

  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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